The Ugly Side Of Racing

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Normally, the Monday after Bump Day is nothing more than a media blitz and goodwill tour for the drivers and team owners. You can feel a palpable sigh of relief among drivers that know they are in the race. They are still almost a week away from Race Day, and everyone is in a festive and optimistic mood.

This year was a little different. We thought that Bump Day ended on Sunday. What we found out was that the bumping on the track finished on Sunday, but continued behind closed doors on Monday. For the second time in three years, Bruno Junqueira has done an admirable job of safely sticking a car in the field, only to be replaced by a driver who had failed to do so.

In case you live under a rock and haven’t heard, Michael Andretti has cut a deal with AJ Foyt to pull Bruno out of the car, in favor of Ryan Hunter-Reay – who got bumped Sunday by his Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti.

I am not naïve and I understand that racing is a business, but this is tough to watch. In 2009, Eric Bachelart gambled and lost that the time of Alex Tagliani, his primary driver, would hold. It didn’t. His one-off teammate, Bruno Junqueira, had put his car safely in the field. Bruno brought no money to the team, so he was expendable. Ironically, Bruno lost his seat to Tagliani, because Tags had been bumped by…Ryan Hunter-Reay.

I don’t blame Ryan Hunter-Reay for this move. It is within the rules to make a switch like this, but that doesn’t make it right. This is a move made in the name of keeping sponsors happy. I know I am old-fashioned, but I just don’t think someone should be allowed to buy their way into the Indianapolis 500. They set up a schedule to allow a full week of practice with two days of qualifying. If buying your way in is an option, why do they put in all of this work? Why do drivers wear a face full of concern if all that needs to be done is have someone write a check?

This just isn’t right. It cheapens the other entrants that earned their way into the field the right way. When Marlboro Team Penske failed to make the field in 1995 – to his credit, Roger Penske didn’t try to deal his way into the field or to force the Speedway into setting up some type of exemption. He simply took the approach that they knew the rules going in, they didn’t get their cars right and they were beaten fair and square. Although he certainly had the resources to buy a path for both of his drivers – Al Unser, Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi; he chose to respect the spirit of the rules and take their lumps.

I realize the sponsorship situation was different. Penske was already five years into a full sponsorship program with Marlboro, whereas Hunter-Reay’s sponsors – Sun Drop and DHL are both new this year. Having won the 500 three of the previous four years with Marlboro, Penske had a lot of credibility with Philip Morris that Andretti does not have with these new sponsors. It has been said that RHR had to be in this race in order to keep the sponsorship package going into next year.

What makes this so odd is that this switch is taking place between two different teams. The Tagliani for Bruno switch occurred within Conquest Racing. Mike Groff qualified Scott Goodyear’s car in 1992. When Goodyear was bumped, Groff knew he had lost his seat to his full-time teammate.

In all honesty, I was afraid all day Monday that Eric Bachelart would repeat his actions of 2009 and yank Pippa Mann out of her first Indianapolis 500 start to turn her qualified car over to Sebastian Saavedra, his full-time driver. At the moment, that doesn’t look to be the case. That’s good. Conquest Racing is unique because it has one of my favorite drivers in Pippa Mann, along with one of my least favorites in Sebastian Saavedra. Had Bachelart pulled Pippa out of the car in favor of Saavedra, I think he would have had a fan revolt on his hands.

So there is a precedent. This has been going on for years, but that doesn’t make it right. One of the many things that has been so appealing to me about the Indianapolis 500 is that there are no provisional starting spots – only the fastest thirty-three get in. After yesterday, I guess you need to add the phrase “unless you’ve got a fat checkbook.” I think this may be one tradition they might should consider changing.

George Phillips

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43 Responses to “The Ugly Side Of Racing”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I agree George and I also agree regarding Conquest and Pippa Mann… My only caveat is the following:
    Guys with fat checkbooks would have nowhere to take their cash if there was no one out there willing to accept it.
    The other day Mr. Foyt made a point of stating that he was not in favor of the qualify twice method of the fast nine, particularly for pole position, if one put their car p front that was that. But yanking Junkie for a fist full of dollars doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.
    I also understand that Tom Anderson was terminated as a result of the AA qualifying debacle. That is unfortunate as he was perhaps one of the few people at AA that might have eventually helped turn the ship around. In my opinion, AA (of which I am a fan) has been in steady decline with regard to both drivers, engineering and race strategy staff for several years now. But I suppose it is more important to be able to point the finger of blame at anyone but ones self.

    • Fred McMan Says:

      Dear Bent Wickerbill:

      Why don’t you go ahead and STFU…! That would be greeeeaaaaaat…!

  2. “I know I am old-fashioned, but I just don’t think someone should be allowed to buy their way into the Indianapolis 500.”

    I agree, but I take it a step further – I don’t think someone should be allowed to buy their way into ANY race. I haven’t liked it when it’s happened in IndyCar, I haven’t liked it when it’s happened in NASCAR and I won’t approve of it regardless of series or driver. Simply put, it cheapens the sport. Can you buy a place in the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals? Why should you be able to buy your way into the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Grand Prix of Monaco?

    As a kid in the 70s and 80s, one of my heros was Foyt. Later, I was a Michael Andretti fan. This entire episode has led me to lose a lot of respect for both.

  3. As a Foyt fan, this hurts. This looks awful for the sport, and I hate that AJ is involved in anything that tarnishes the Indy 500’s prestige.

    However, I don’t believe this is only, or even mostly, about money. Did Foyt need Andretti’s funding to keep Vitor’s team going for the rest of the season? No, that’s already taken care of. Did Foyt just want to enhance his personal nest egg? I doubt it. He has ranches, thoroughbred horses, car dealerships and a private jet! And, he fully expected to be funding the 41 car out of his own pocket. So, I don’t see this as a cash-grab.

    Instead, as fans, I guess we need to realize that our series is hurting even more than we already admit. We’ve had lots of good news the past couple years. But our TV ratings are in the tank and next year is going to be expensive on the teams. We can’t turn away sponsors like DHL and Sun Drop who can afford to advertise.

    Also, I assume AJ and RHR have a relationship beyond racing. Wasn’t AJ’s plane used to transport Ryan’s dying mom? These are human beings, not cash registers we’re talking about. There’s an emotional element to this decision that has little to do with money.

    Maybe I’m just biased and I’m rationalizing in favor of my hero. Or, maybe I just see the realities of the big picture our struggling series faces.

    However, having already said that I’ve made my peace with the situation, I’d be remiss not to point out how cheated I feel to have ridden that emotional roller-coaster on bump day and now realize it was just an illusion. It was all for nothing.

  4. Gurney Eagle Says:

    Starting spots are now simply commodities to be bought and sold.
    There is no longer any reason to push it to the limit on Bump Day. If you don’t make it, no problem. Just find a one-off team, throw some cash at them, and buy your way back in.
    It would be nice if Bernard would step in and stop this travesty “for the good of the sport” but I won’t hold my breath waiting.
    Foyt is the last person I would have ever expected to pull an end run like this. His attempt to spin this would be laughable if it weren’t so disgusting.

  5. I’m not exactly turning cartwheels over this, and would much rather see a rule implemented in the future linking car and driver, with reasonable exemptions for unpredictable, extraordinary circumstances (folks can hash out what exactly those would be later, but the point of mentioning exemptions is to allow for fair flexibility while preserving integrity). But even with all that said, maybe we ought to step back a bit and make a few allowances:

    1. AJ’s paying for this car out-of-pocket. Having a car paid for helps float the team; paying for one out of pocket is risky, since an individual’s capital will be far less than a corporations. This helps keep his team alive, and he’s got to think about his own people.

    2. As ugly as this looks for Michael Andretti, he’s helping his driver keep a sponsor. I don’t like kowtowing to the almighty dollar either, but it’s either do this or potentially strand RHR next year if the sponsors drop him. This isn’t 100% selfish, it’s also looking out for his driver.

    3. RHR, too, knows that it’s the driver that brings in the money. And he’s out of a job if he loses his sponsor; look at what happened to TK.

    No, I don’t like ride buying. And yes, I would much rather see rules implemented eliminating this. That said, can you really blame the participants for doing what they did? I see the injury to the aura of the sport too, but my paycheck and finances don’t depend on making the race; theirs do. As long as the rule doesn’t tie the driver to the car, this will remain legal, so if we want something done, amend the rule. But lets be careful about blaming the participants. This is a classic “don’t hate the player; hate the game” situation.

    • That’s about the most even handed write up I’ve seen on this issue so far. Good work, E.M.H., and I agree with every word that you wrote.

      I’m no fan of what happened either, and I hate it for Bruno. I think people probably need to deal with the realities in play here, though.

    • you said it, EMH. I don’t link this, but I refused to get too worked up about it. It does make sense. The only thing that annoys me is that Bruno is out of a ride, and he’s a hell of a driver.

  6. OMG! Can’t believe that #3 has more votes!!!! O_o
    xenophobia?!?!?!?!

    • Agree was really shocked when the results popped up myself. Bruno is as skilled and deserving as anyone – I am all for more Americans, but I want the field filled on talent above all else.

    • Jim Gallo Says:

      I too was so surprised with that number of votes for #3. I thought that box was there as a joke, but either there are that many believe it to be true or a few ballot box stuffers.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    In my opinion there is just no way of putting a good spin on this or rationalizing what took place by talking about sponsorship issues.

    It is one thing for a ride swap to take place within a team, it is quite another thing when owners buy and sell a ride. I have been a fan of the Andretti teams and of Mr. Foyt, but this action certainly diminishes my respect for them.

    The rule needs to be changed. Allowing someone to buy a ride into the race makes bump day with all the drama and emotion involved a farce. This has cheapened the 100th anniversery race. I am counting on Randy Bernard to do the right thing.

    Bruno Junqueira has a fine record at the Indy500 and in open wheel racing in general. He is at least as good as RHR. He earned his way into the race. RHR did not.

    As for those of you who voted above that this is a good thing because it gets another American in the race and takes out a Brazilian, that is just appalling! The end does not justify the means. I am all for more American drivers in the race, but they have to earn it.

    In my opinion there are no shades of gray here. This is just wrong!

  8. I thought George meant for the “more Americans” option as a joke. And I hope that even folks who want more American drivers in the series could see that this isn’t the right way for that to happen. So I’ll just assume people are picking that option with a bit of irony.

    I get the business part, and I know that money is the answer to most questions, but it doesn’t make it right. I don’t understand why Sun Drop didn’t just move their sponsorship to someone elses car who needed a sponsor–like Pippa Mann.

    It certainly puts a gray cloud over a great weekend for Indycar.

    • Oilpressure Says:

      It was meant to be a joke. There has been a serious ballot box stuffer. This morning, there were almost as many votes as hits, which is WAY out of proportion. Oh well, if you have enough time on your hands to take the time to alter the poll results of a blog – you might need a hobby. – GP

  9. If the health of the IndyCar series is dependent on keeping the 3rd place shipping company and a Mountain Dew knock-off soda pop happy, then our beloved sport still has a loooooong way to go my friends!

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Good points Vic. I work for the 2nd place shipping company. If we pulled a stunt like this I would have to retire early.

      • Hey, cash is cash. If the Mountain Dew Knock-off wanted to give me money to do a job, well, I’m not going to say no to that.

    • The ‘health’ of Andretti Autosport (and any team) depends of cash flow.

  10. Simona Fan Says:

    Geez. So much cynicism. So much righteous indignation. Look, the car qualifies, not the driver. The team owner can hire whomever he wishes to drive the car. It’s happened plenty of times before, it’ll happen many times again. Listen to the stories of Donald Davidson about guys who were brought in to qualify certain cars. Or teammates who make way for the series regular or the better sponsored driver. It happens.

    And this is even less egregious considering that RHR was 34th in the closest field in history, and given 5 more minutes probably would have qualified anyway.

    When Bruno was hired by AJ to drive Vitors back-up car, Bruno knew that his job was just to qualify the car. If anything happened to Vitor, he’d lose his ride. Bruno’s a pro. He got paid to put the car in the field for his owner. Well done, Bruno.

    Is it pretty? No. But it’s far from the most underhanded, despicable thing ever to happen in motor racing that certain bloggers are making it out to be.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I agree with you that this is not the most despicable thing to happen in motor sports. By far. And hopefully it will not overshadow the truly remarkable story of Simona getting into the race.

      Having said that, I think to say that under the rules the car qualifies and not the driver is to ignore the human factor. During qualifying drivers put their physical well being on the line to qualify a car. Having done that, they deserve to be in the race. Simona is a perfect example of that. She earned it. Bruno earned it. RHR did not.

      I believe the rule needs to be changed.

      • Simona Fan Says:

        Ron,

        Ha. Indirectly you asked me “What if it was Simona who got yanked?” And to be honest, I’d be pissed. So you got me there. I’m probably more ho-hum about this because I don’t have not an emotions positive or negative tied to RHR or Bruno. So maybe I’d feel differently if it was “my” driver. :)

        I’ll argue the other point, which is to say that this was less of an issue when all the cars weren’t the same. But now, with the cars being essentially spec, it’s hard to make the claim that the car qualifies. Obviously, right now, the difference is the set-up and the driver.

        I still think the teams are well within their right to put whomever they want in the driver’s seat. And I have to point out that someone above said “Can people buy their way into the Superbowl?” Yes, sorta. The team qualifies for the Superbowl, not the players. When Troy Aikmen was hurt in the playoffs and Bernie Kosar (don’t ask me why I remember this) led the team through the playoffs, Troy played in the Superbowl when he was healed even though he didn’t play in the playoffs. Why? Because it was the team that qualified not the individual.

        I don’t know much about horse racing, but my understanding is that jockeys ride different horses all the time, sometimes switching horses the morning of the race. Doesn’t seem to bother the people in the funny hats. :)

      • “Bruno earned it. RHR did not.
        I believe the rule needs to be changed.”
        ~ agreed ~

    • Yeah — I wasn’t bothered, because I have no affinity for Bruno or Ryan. I thought that Bruno was a hired gun who knew it and seemingly didn’t mind a payoff to step away. And Ryan is a licensed, fast, race-winning driver who was handicapped by one of A.A.’s under-performing cars, not a slowpoke like Milka Duno wandering gasoline Alley waving a check from Citgo.
      All persons who’re disgruntled should e-mail complaints to IndyCar so that the rulebook is changed before next May.

  11. The business logic makes total sense. BUT… Most of the historical precedent comes from intra-team swaps as opposed to pure ride-buys, which is exactly what this is. This is truly the purest and most despicable form of ride buying. Bernard has been responsive to fan feedback and there is no way I see him letting this continue. Last weekend was the greatest weekend of qualifying in many years. This totally undermines it. Randy is smart enought to understand that. Micheal, this is no way to re-build your team. This just adds to the bad Karma that has been bringing your team down since employing your son and Danica became more important than winning. Seriously, you aren’t in business to win. You are in business to be in business and ride the Danica money train. Time for a clean sheet of paper and to decide if you are a race team or not.

    • I find it odd that anytime somebody has a chance to attack Danica…they will…even if it’s something that has nothing to do with her. She easily Andretti Autosport’s greatest whipping-boy….I mean, girl…

  12. This is an unfortunate situation, but it doesn’t besmirch the sport of auto racing. It didn’t seem to bother anyone up until now. In fact, it was pretty much expected. I saw John Andretti on TV being asked if he’d give up his seat for one of his teammates.

    Fact is, auto racing is a sport that wouldn’t exist without “selling out”. It’s simply far too expensive to make a go at without financial backing. How many times in the history of the sport has a lesser driver been put in a car because the sponsor wanted him? For some reason, I’m thinking of Loy Allen going in the Hooter’s car after Alan Kulwicki’s death.
    I wish this didn’t happen, but I’m not sure how to prevent it in the future. Andretti and Foyt simply made business decisions that worked in their respective self interests.

  13. Donald McElvain Says:

    This whole thing is a sorry mess. It has now become THE story of the 500 this year. I’m hoping Randy nixes this idiot rule for future races. Kudos to Penske and Bobby Rahal for showing how it done.

    • Simona Fan Says:

      Right. Penske. When he didn’t qualify in 1995 he took his lumps, didn’t buy a ride and came back the next year more determined than ever to qualify his cars.

      Oh wait. No, he didn’t. He launched an owner revolt and developed a competing racing series devoid of ovals and didn’t return to Indianapolis until 2001.

      Penske is a great car owner and competitor, but he is not about being “fair”. He’s about winning. If Power or Castroneves had failed to qualify, you better believe he’d be looking to swap his way in.

      • “When he didn’t qualify in 1995 he took his lumps, didn’t buy a ride,” but you think that without Phillip Morris’s millions that he’d rent cars this month? I don’t think so. And Penske didn’t launch “an owner revolt” and create a new series. Anton George created a pet league to revolve around his family’s race track.

      • Simona Fan Says:

        Fair enough. I know the split had to do with more complicated matters than Penske’s poor 1995 qualifying experience. But regardless, lets stop holding Penske up as someone who did it the “right” way. He didn’t buy a ride for his drivers, but he also didn’t come back for 7 years.

      • billytheskink Says:

        Penske’s poor performance at Indy in 1995 had nothing to do with the split, and likely little to do with his decision to not compete in the 500 again until 2001.
        Tony George had announced the creation of the Indy Racing League in 1994.
        Penske, a founder of CART with a major stake in its success, stuck with that series for 1996 just like Honda, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Goodyear, Firestone, PPG, every non-Indy track that returned excpet for Phoenix and Loudon, and 16 of 1995s 17 full-time team owners. Foyt was the only full-time team in 1995 that ran exclusively in the IRL in 1996. He did not act alone…

  14. all i can say is indy car racing is already in the toilet and they should be doing everything they can to make it better
    for those that where there did you see what was up in the stands
    nobody the place was a ghost town !
    the fast nine does nothing to make it better
    the problem with pole day is no more track record
    fans came out to see more speed every year
    i’m very sad for indy
    my sons and friends don’t want to go anymore
    its a mess

    • It would be impossible to establish a new track record every year. At some point race cars turn into airplanes.

      Indycar is not in the toliet. They may be in the pantry where no one can see them, but not in the toliet.

      The fast nine was exciting and did make it better.

      They’re trying many things to make the sport more interesting. But usually when they do, people complain that they’re changing.

      I didn’t think it was a ghost town. It wasn’t 1965, but it wasn’t a ghost town.

  15. billytheskink Says:

    I find this situation incredibly irksome because I can’t fully line up on one side of it or the other.

    I’m as disgusted as anyone that Bruno’s spot is being purchased instead of earned. I agree that this greatly cheapens the entire qualifying process by making it completely unnecessary in (way far out there) theory. I absolutely 100% do not want to see this happen, ever.

    On the other side of the coin, to me, it’s not about the health of the series or the 500, the need to keep sponsors happy, or increasing the number of Americans in the field, it’s about car owners being able to employ who they want to employ. While it’s good that the series has some control of who drives for safety reasons, I struggle to like the precedent it may set if such control was taken further.

    I am seriously considering making shirt that says “Bruno Wuz Robbed” and wearing it this weekend. For what that’s worth…

  16. Bruno Junqueira has been targeted for this twice already:

    Bruno Junqueira entered the IZOD IndyCar Series full time in 2008 with a wealth of experience in open-wheel racing, including four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He earned the pole position at Indianapolis in 2002, driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

    Junqueira enjoyed success competing in Champ Car for seven seasons. With his 2005 win at Monterrey, Junqueira became the first driver in 19 years to win races in each of his first five years in Champ Car. He also finished runner-up in the series standings three times.

    Junqueria is part of a proud tradition of Brazilian open-wheel drivers, coming up through the Brazilian karting ranks and competing in South American Formula 3 and FIA International Formula 3000 before landing a ride in Champ Car.

    Maybe they think this racing driver is replaceable… Very Sad when RHR is a questionalble driver at best . His 2010 record is not so great…but then again his team-mate did cry his way to 3rd place in 2010. Don’t forget mr. Conway, who almost lost his leg, becuase RHR ran out of fuel.

    William Power was thrown to the wall and lost his championship in 2010…everyone overlooked it because?

    There is a reason they have qualifying for the indy 500 and it is NOT just for business;
    If it were just for business why not buy Tags’ pole position?

    They do have 5 cars.. and twice as many employees as most of the teams at their level.
    Cheaters never win.

  17. what happens if ryan and marco are leading on the last lap of the 500
    does marco get the win ?
    what sponsor wins ?
    who cares

    • Brian McKay Says:

      If Marco & RHR are 1 & 2 on the last lap, RHR will lift off his throttle so that the car chasing him will vault overhead to the fence and Marco can cruise to the finish.

  18. AJ’s the worst guy in this thing, in my book. Hate to say it, but he sold out.

    BTW, DHL isn’t some third rate delivery service, it’s number one in Europe, and partially owned by the German Postal Service.

  19. RHR deserves to be last…at best.

    And who really cares..RHR and his third rate team already showed the world last year that stunt of running out of fuel close to the finish line …it almost cost Mr. Conway his leg…and then RHR’s team mate cries his way to third place..some people might have actually required the prize go to Conway.

    Then William Power was shoved to the wall and he lost his 2 million…no one cared about that either…It looks like Vegas wrestling.

    Who cares? Just get them to please STOP talking about the poor cancer victims who are “loosing” their battles every day…Where is Roy BTW…I think I saw him puking at the pagoda.

  20. billytheskink Says:

    bizarre

  21. Regardless of who sold what, Bump Day 2011 will forever be rememberd as the the day that Michael Andretti had his @ss handed to him.

  22. From a business perspective, I understand the decision somewhat. I would imagine that Michael Andretti promised DHL and Sun Drop would be visible at the Indy 500 if they inked with Andretti Autosport-this is purely speculation on my part.

    From an emotional/fan perspective-which is somethng I try not to view things from very often-this decision stinks to high heaven. I didnt’ have a lot of respect for Andretti Autosport before-mostly due to their hiring decisions-but now I have even less respect for them. I still respect A.J. Foyt as a driver. As a car owner? Not so much anymore. I do understand he was funding the #41 car out of his own pocket, but that begs the question: if you couldn’t afford to run the car, A.J., why did you enter it?

    I do not-unlike some people on an internet message board-view Andretti, Foyt and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the same vein as murderers; yes, that is the comparison being made by some on a message board. Nor do I wish RHR would crash in the race. I don’t root against anyone in INDYCAR-okay, maybe one driver-but I imagine when the introductions are made on Sunday, there will be a helping of boos mixed in with the cheers, not only for RHR, but for all of the other drivers on both AA and AJFR who are blameless for this PR nightmare.

    I do understand that this is not the first time this has happened, and technically, it isn’t against the rules-hopefully Randy Bernard will change the rules after this debacle. But the bigger issue will be how AA, AJFR and DHL and Sun Drop, deal with the potential fallout from this situation. If the internet postings-message boards, twitter-are any indication, the above entities will be doing some major spinning in the next few days to try to repair their public reputations. I have a feeling, though, that this dirty won’t come clean for a long while.

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