Why Don’t IndyCar Regulars Run Indy Lights?
I’m usually a brown-bagger for lunch, mainly because I’m cheap – but I’ll generally treat myself to lunch out of the office on Friday’s. This past Friday, a co-worker of mine, Randy, joined me at my latest favorite Chinese restaurant (Bo-Bo’s). As are most residents of the Nashville area, Randy is a die-hard NASCAR fan. However, since we have been working together, he is a regular reader of this site and has become (at least) a casual fan of the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Randy has asked some good questions about IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 in the time I have known him. They are usually questions that most casual fans don’t know the answer to. Being the hard-core fan that I am – I usually know the answers, but will gladly answer the question. I’ve always been a proponent of being very patient with new fans. I learned that after my son played high-school hockey. The transplanted parents that had been following hockey all of their lives had no time or patience for me – a native southerner who knew absolutely nothing about their sport. From that point on, I vowed to always practice patience with those that were interested enough in open-wheel racing to ask questions. No matter how elementary the question, I will always take time to explain something.
On Friday however, somewhere between the hot-sour soup and the egg roll – Randy asked me a question that I really didn’t have a good answer for. I kind of muddled through a semi-explanation that didn’t satisfy him – but I couldn’t really come back with anything else. So I’ll pose the question to you.
With the Nationwide series making its first-ever appearance at IMS on Saturday, Randy asked why no regular drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series ever run in the Firestone Indy Lights as the Sprint Cup drivers that race in the Nationwide Series do. I tried to explain how there is nothing an IndyCar driver could learn in an Indy Lights car, but he countered with asking why they would even use a car that was so different than an IndyCar. He also said that surely they could learn little nuances about the track that they could carry over to the IndyCar race and give them an advantage.
Personally, I always thought that it was NASCAR that had things wrong. In the nineties, I constantly wondered why Mark Martin would waste time and risk injury running the No. 60 for Roush Racing on Saturday and then the No. 6 on Sunday. I told Randy that NASCAR was the only racing body that regularly practiced this. You never see it in Formula One or IndyCar. I even ventured outside of my comfort zone and included NHRA just to make my point. That was shaky ground because I know nothing about NHRA and as far as I know – they might actually have drivers regularly dipping down into lower series.
Randy then let me know how well he had been doing his open-wheel homework. He threw it out that Jim Clark was fatally injured at Hockenheim while driving in a Formula Two race. Hmmm. He was throwing too much reasoning at me. I tried to shoot it down that that was almost forty-five years ago and things are different now. But deep inside, I knew I didn’t really have a good answer to his original question other than “they just don’t”.
Randy then went on to say that he would be much more inclined to watch Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon mix it up in Indy Lights over Victor Carbone going at it against Carlos Munoz. He also used the NASCAR argument that the drivers in the developmental series would learn so much more racing against a Will Power than they would going up against a Peter Dempsey. It would be a win-win. The drivers would develop much better and there would be much more interest in the series.
I finally ended the discussion with the lame comment of “well, I can tell you that it will never happen” as I quickly changed the subject to something else.
But it bothered me throughout the weekend – especially as I saw Brad Keselowski win the Nationwide race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday – that I couldn’t come up with a good reason why they don’t other than the fact that it’s always been that way. Sebastian Saavedra has split time in both series this season, but that is only because he lost his full-time ride in IndyCar after last year. As long as I’ve been following this sport, I can never recall a time when an IndyCar regular ever dipped down into Indy Lights, Atlantics or any other development series.
So who does it right? INDYCAR or NASCAR? I’m not so sure. I can come up with arguments for and against the way each series treats their development series. I know I can tell you this – although I consider myself an IndyCar die-hard, I know more about the Nationwide series in NASCAR than I do the Firestone Indy Lights in INDYCAR. Let me know your thoughts?