Are All Racing Gimmicks Bad?
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.