Are All Racing Gimmicks Bad?

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After Charlie Kimball scored his first podium finish in Toronto, I could have sworn that I heard him say something about how fans deserve to see a finish under green-flag conditions. I can only assume that he meant he supported a green-white-checkered finish that has been utilized in NASCAR for the past few years. I think I’ll pass.

The GWC finish is one of many gimmicks that have been put into practice in NASCAR recently. Being the crusty old goat that I’ve become, I am loathe to embrace anything in racing that reeks of gimmickry. If you know nothing about me, know that I am a traditionalist and take everything else from that. That’s not to say I won’t be accepting of new ideas, but I have to see how they play out. I’m generally skeptical at first, but if I see that something new improves racing and not just the show – I can go along with it.

The double-file re-starts implemented in the IZOD IndyCar Series last season are a perfect example. At first, I saw no need for them. I considered them a gimmick just to keep the fans attention span in check. It wasn’t until the first couple of races that I became a fan. Once I saw how it did actually improve the racing, I was on-board to the point that I was very upset that they were done away with at Indianapolis and a few other tracks this season.

Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed and it appears that INDYCAR has no interest in adopting the GWC finish anytime soon. There have been other gimmicks that have made it to the track in the IZOD IndyCar Series in the last couple of years. Some have been minor successes, while others have been giant flops.

The twin races at Texas in 2011 come to mind as something to put into the flop category. It was cheesy, hokie and put too much emphasis on pure dumb luck that had the potential to have major implications on the championship. Some weren’t fans of this year’s qualifying format at Iowa. They saw qualifying races as a gimmick that put the cars (and drivers) at an unnecessary risk. Personally, I liked the overall concept but felt like the winners of the first two races should have transferred over into the “main event”. Maybe they can tweak the system for next year.

Some would consider the red alternate tires used on road & street courses to be a gimmick. Perhaps they are, but they also introduce a new level of strategy that force teams to try and out-think each other. Such strategy helped propel Helio Castroneves to victory this past Sunday in Edmonton.

Many are clamoring for standing starts on street and road courses. I’m not one of those, but I will say this – I saw the start of the Star Mazda races at Barber this season. Even to hear those cars at full song go from a standing start was exhilarating. I can only imagine how it would sound to hear an IndyCar race begin with a standing start.

So where do we put the push-to-pass button that was re-introduced to the series beginning with the Toronto race? Is it a gimmick? If so, is it successful or is it something to merely scoff at? Fans of CART/Champ Car will love it because it originated there about ten years ago. Over there, the P2P button was good for about fifty more horsepower. When it was introduced to the IZOD IndyCar Series a few years ago, it only provided five to ten more horsepower – hardly enough for most drivers to tell a significant difference.

What I didn’t like about the early days of the IndyCar push-to-pass rule was that a driver got “X” amount of pushes and each push was for a pre-determined set of time. For instance, a driver might get fifteen pushes of the button for a race and each push may be good for twenty seconds of added power. What if the driver only needed five seconds to either make a pass or defend a position? The rest of the time was wasted. Now, a driver is given a set amount of time for each race. It is up to each driver and team to decide when and how to use it.

Of course, push-to-pass is a gimmick. But it’s one of those things that adds another element of strategy to a race. At the end of Sunday’s race, Helio Castroneves had saved his P2P time, while Takuma Sato had spent a lot of his early. It cost him. When he really needed it to get a run on Helio for the win – he had nothing. Whether it’s tire wear, brake wear or even engine wear – there are many components a driver must monitor in order to bring a car home. A car can make it to the end with no push-to-pass left, but how competitive is it?

As usual, I was not a fan of the P2P when it first came out. I considered it an unnecessary piece that was added in simply to bump up ratings. Now that it has been in place for a while, I’ve grown to accept it as an integral part of a race. I suppose what I’m asking is; are all gimmicks bad? The purist in me says yes, but the fan that wants more excitement says no. So on this subject, I suppose I’m waffling – but I can’t decide (intended sarcasm).

Seriously though, I’ve learned over the years to fight the crusty old man inside of me and not dismiss every new idea that comes along. But when it comes to green-white-checkered finishes, I’m afraid the crusty old man wins out.

George Phillips

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16 Responses to “Are All Racing Gimmicks Bad?”

  1. Gimmicks, shimmicks, but I draw the line at GWC. It’s the 500, not the 505.

  2. John S. Says:

    I’m wiling to try some gimmicks to see how they work, but I agree with JohnMc, the GWC is a definite NO in my book.

  3. Steve K Says:

    Give me the GWC. Why does it matter the Indy 500 becomes the 505. It’s just a number. How does this hurt anyone’s enjoyment of a race? I just do not see the negative from a fans prospective. Cavin and Lee drive me crazy on this one.

    • billytheskink Says:

      The “just a number” bit, very funny.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      GWC is gratuitous entertainment and does nothing for the sport. It is kind of like the difference between Olympic hockey and the NHL. The NHL fights drag on forever, give the fans a cheap thrill, but degrade the sport.

  4. GWC may be a Nascar gimmick that provides artificial competition and more opportunities for wrecks but I’d imagine for “average sports fan/casual viewer” it’s a chance to see an exciting conclusion to a long event.

    I think the “average sports fan” would be disappointed to learn Indycar races may conclude under yellow, instead of racing to the end. Football has overtime, baseball extra innings, so why not another lap or two to end under competition?

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Of course all gimmicks aren’t bad and some of them become so common that a time comes when it is hard to imagine the sport without them. Some of those even get hailed as great “innovations”. The first rolling start was a gimmick, and think of other sports too… the forward pass, three point shot, penalty shootout, designated hitter…

    But that’s some, not all, and there will always be a million different opinions about which gimmicks are good and which are “contrived” or “manufactured”.
    Say we all ran down a checklist of the various gimmicks employed in auto racing in recent years and noted which ones we liked and which ones we did not. I’d bet a pizza party that no two regular Oilpressure commenters’ lists would 100% match.

  6. Donald McElvain Says:

    Forget P2P, just give these guys 900hp.

  7. Savage Henry Says:

    I think that Indycar racing should be a test of skill, not a test of luck. I think that the GWC finish brings a lot of luck into the picture, especially when someone who was running in 10th and totally out of it ends up winning because of a late yellow and carnage on the first GWC restart. That is great for NASCAR, because they’ve made it into a glorified demolition derby anyway. I don’t think it is right for Indycar. I’d like to see the winner achieve his/her result as an accomplishment of the entire race, not the last 2 laps.

    I’m opinionated about the gimmicks. Part of me wants to be the purist and say “if someone wins by 3 laps and earns it, so be it” but I’m not sure I would want to watch a race like that. Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of my opinions: GWC finishes – no; push to pass – no, DRS (F1) – no, alternate tires – yes, double-file restarts – yes, depending on if the track layout is appropriate; twin races/qualifying races – yes, but improve the format (didn’t they already perfect that in sprint car racing 50 years ago?), competition cautions – HELL NO, randomly wetting down the racetrack – HELL NO.

  8. The Lapper Says:

    The teams have set the cars up to go 500 miles. Period. To extend that is ridiculous. Sometimes the driver is driving on fumes at the end and that is all a part of the race strategy. GWC is not a part of the race strategy nor should it ever be considered. By the way, 500 miles is THE number.

  9. Ron Ford Says:

    I can’t help but beiieve that the NASCAR decision to go to GWC finishes originated in some TV marketing meeting.

    Not much different than mud wrestling.

  10. james t suel Says:

    NOTHING SHOULD ARTIFICIALITY EFFECT THE OUTCOME OF A RACE!! I DO NOT WANT A GAME, A SHOW I WANT A PURE AUTO RACE .NO GIMMICKS THEY ARE B/S.

  11. Savage Henry points out something that everyone should be thinking long and hard about re: GWC. Cup cars can beat and bang each other around without the complete likelihood of someone being pretty seriously injured. End of day and bottom line, we all love to see good hard racing but we all grieve when someone gets seriously injured or worse. Indy cars (as everyone here knows) can’t ‘beat and bang’ like fendered cars, and having any form of GWC in open wheel cars lends itself to having a lot of questions raised when it all turns very ugly for the sake of racing to the finish. The race is set at X number of miles. Keep it that way.

    • John S. Says:

      Right. And, I think the safety of the drivers is the biggest reason not to go GWC. You have seen how some of these maniacs drive near the end of a race. Can you imagine the carnage and possible injuries, or worse?

      From an owners’ perspective, I think they’d tell you the car parts are too expensive to risk it.

  12. Peter T. Says:

    “I could have sworn that I heard him say … I can only assume…” Good blog work (traffic generation) – bad reporting.

    Charlie was talking track sweeping or single file restarts, not GWC. You can read the post race press conference transcript for his exacts words. Pressdog has it if you can’t find it on Indycar.com:

    http://pressdog.typepad.com/dogblog/2012/07/notes-taken-during-the-2012-indycar-race-at-toronto.html#tp

    • Oilpressure Says:

      First of all – I’m not a reporter or a journalist, so good or bad reporting is not what I do. Second, this comment didn’t come from the post-race press conference. It was during the ABC broadcast immediately following the race and I quoted him practically verbatim. As I said, I am “assuming” he was talking GWC just as you are assuming he was talking track sweeping or single file re-starts.

      I make no money from this site, so traffic generation is not really a concern of mine. I do this out of the love of the sport. I never try to pass myself off as a reporter or journalist. I offer my opinions, and that’s what I was doing here. Thanks for reading – GP

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