The Significance Of A Championship

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Welcome to the offseason! While many are bemoaning the fact that it may be almost seven months before we see another IndyCar race, there are some positives – at least from a blogger’s standpoint. One of those is that I don’t have to follow a prescribed schedule that is dictated by the racing schedule. While the “Random Thoughts” wrap-up articles are always the most popular and heavily trafficked articles outside of the Month of May, the “Preview” articles on Fridays heading into a race weekend are always some of the least popular. Part of that is because Friday articles are always light traffic days – at least on this site.

But now that the season is over, I have the chance to have a bit more flexibility on whatever topics I choose to write about. Such is the case today.

When I wrote an article regarding the Verizon IndyCar Series championship a couple of weeks ago, I was more than just a little surprised at some of the comments that were posted. The implication that many were saying was that the championship meant nothing. The overall tone of their comments said that it meant nothing to the fans, the sponsors and even the drivers. I could not disagree more.

As a fan, I have always appreciated the championship. AJ Foyt set the standard with seven Indy car championships. Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, the Unsers – they all strived for the championship, and proudly carried the No.1 on their car the next season after they had won it.

Sponsors get it too. This is not just dollars and cents to most sponsors. Sure some sponsors simply write a check to their respective teams, and that’s it. But many sponsors have an emotional investment as well. Not only do sponsors get to know a driver personally, but there’s also added pride when their driver wins the championship.

I don’t mean to disparage those that made such comments, because many of these people have been longtime supporters of this site and generally make logical and well thought out comments. I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the comments made here, but I’ll always admire a prepared and logical argument even if I don’t agree with it.

But to say a championship means nothing to the drivers defies logic. Why would Will Power risk his life in the 2012 season finale at Fontana in a car that was thrashed together after crashing, to ultimately gain two points if it meant nothing to him? Why was Power sobbing like a child as he crossed the line if the championship meant nothing to him?

Drivers from previous eras led different lifestyles than those of today. Those in the sixties were known as much for their abilities to chase women and pound down beers as they were for their prowess on the track. Today’s drivers are much more family oriented and health conscious. But there is one common denominator that crosses every generation of racer – they are all extremely competitive. Whether it is to be first heading into Turn One at Indianapolis or playing a video game, drivers want to win and be recognized as the best. That’s in their DNA. Saying the championship doesn’t matter is not only an insult to the series and the championship, it’s also insulting to the men and women that have risked their lives and sometimes lost their lives while competing for the championship.

Will Power said that a childhood dream was finally realized on Saturday night. He is not one to make overly dramatic statements, nor is Power one to hype the series. You could tell he was emotionally spent on Saturday night. This meant a lot to him.

Look, I’m not naïve enough to think that Saturday night’s championship carried the same importance to the American public that the Super Bowl does. I also realize that within this series, there is one single race that carries more importance than the entire series championship. And if I’m a driver given the choice of winning a series championship or an Indianapolis 500 victory – I’m taking the 500 victory every time. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the series championship. Ask any of the legendary drivers over the years that have won the championship; or better yet – ask one that came close to winning but didn’t, if the championship is important. My bet is that every time, you will get an emphatic “Yes”.

Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. His legacy is already established whether or not he ever wins the championship. If he retires with no championships on his resume, he will still be revered. But I’ll promise you, it is nagging him that he hasn’t won one. Tony Kanaan was close to coming to grips that he may never win an Indianapolis 500 and was saying all the right things that he was at peace with it if it didn’t happen. But once he won it, he admitted he wasn’t being totally honest with himself. My guess is that Helio is the same way about the championship.

When the checkered flag falls at Indianapolis each year, the message is the same from all teams – now it’s time to focus on the championship. These things are hard to win. Ask those drivers that have come close to a championship. You not only need to win a few races, but you have to excel in those that you don’t. Everything has to go right. The teams that are the most prepared each week are the ones that usually win the championship. But there’s another variable – you can’t depend on it, but you always have to have just a little bit of luck.

So don’t kid yourselves. Between the car-owners, the teams, the drivers and the sponsors – the championship is a very big deal.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “The Significance Of A Championship”

  1. The series championship, in my studied opinion, is extremely significant. As a fan, I appreciated Andretti’s DHL Team sharing this achievement with the fans and sponsors by running under the “Number One” for the next year. I would imagine that DHL enjoyed the year and significance of this achievement in their use of the team in their B2B marketing. As for Ganassi and the Dixon team, why did they not put the Number One on the car?! They had the Ten Car in a 50 livery in honor of Target’s fifty year anniversary, so why not bring Target along and honor their support by sporting the Number One. This year’s championship was a well earned achievement for Will Power and he, Penske, Cindric and the rest of the Verizon Team defiantly get it.

  2. I’m sure its very signigicant to the teams. But to me as a fan, I am much more interested in who wins the race and who wins the most races. In Nascar a couple years ago, we almost had a champion in Carl Edwards who did not win a race the entire year. Luckily Tony Stewart won by a tiebreaker. What a farce that would have been.

    If I go to a race, I want to see the drivers go for it to win the race. Not play it safe and finish third or fourth, or ninth.

    • In 2003 Matt Kenseth won only 1 race and won the Cup Championship while Ryan Newman won 8. Hence the Chase.

    • billytheskink Says:

      In fairness to Carl Edwards, he did win in Las Vegas in 2011, so he would not have been a winless champion had Stewart not had his remarkable chase.

      A championship is a worthy goal, especially if it is determined using a points system that appropriately rewards winning and keeping your car out of the wall. I would argue that the Indycar system does a decent job of that and typically encourages drivers to vie for any win they think is within reach.
      A points system that is the sheer antithesis of this is ARCA’s, where, counting down from 200, each position is separated by 5 points with a 25 point bonus for STARTING the race (among other frivolous bonuses). And thus, ARCA’s current points leader has 1 win to the 2nd place driver’s 6 even as both drivers have contested every race.

  3. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I guess if asked to weigh the value of the current championship, I’d consider observing a few factors:
    – By how the teams/drivers react to winning/losing the championship (receiving a prize sum worthy of the accorded efforts, accepting the honor of the Nmbr 1, celebrating/promoting their win).
    – By how the league responds/promotes the champion.
    – By the fans reaction to the champion (desire to buy sponsor-based product/service/merchandise).
    – By how the sponsors’ respond/promote their champion (promote ‘their’ champion to the public/promotional campaigns, insistence on being the nmbr 1 car the following year).

    As a fan currently, I fully expect two things to happen following the crowning of an Indycar Champion (anything else is gravy at this point sadly):
    1. I expect to see promotions through well-established Indycar-centric channels by the sponsors at intervals that regularly remind people of the champion which carries over to the start of the next season. Say “Generic Beer Company” is the winning sponsor – regularly promote your champ via packaging, special sales promotions, etc.
    2. The following season, the championship team/car/sponsors all have the extreme honor, pride, and desire to ‘run the 1′.
    Enough said.

  4. As you have suggested George, other than winning the Indy500, the championship is everything to every one connected with providing the series. And I mean everyone. Ask a hauler driver, for example, if he cares about having “Champion” on his rig.

    Isn’t that true of any competitive sport? I think that anyone who suggests otherwise is writing from the perspective of what it means to the writer. The perspective from one’s couch is likely to be as diverse as the opinions regularly expressed here.

  5. While I’m certain the Indycar Championship means a lot to teams, sponsors, drivers and–as I’ve read here, some fans, it doesn’t mean much of anything to me. Some of that is due to the overwhelming popularity of the “real” goal of the Indycar season, winning the 500. And I guess much of it is just due to the general lack of interest in Indycar in the media.

    Does anyone really keep track of the points differential throughout the year like in baseball or buy t-shirts that say “Will Power–’14 Indycar Champ?” as with Superbowl winners? Does the Champ get his photo on Sports Illustrated or star in Miller Lite commercials or lead the news on Sportscenter? Or even get mentioned on Sportscenter, let alone the local news?

    So while I enjoy the individual races, and like following the exploits of several of the drivers, and always hope for continued success of Indycar, I have to admit the championship itself has never really grabbed my attention. And that’s how I see it from my couch.

  6. The Championship is everything from my point of view. A years worth of work trumps two weeks in May. However, the more gimmicky the point system becomes, the less the significance. NASCAR will probably crown a fraudulent Champion this year which makes winning it seem more like winning a raffle. If IndyCar keeps tweaking things, I would likely change my view.

  7. The championship does mean a lot to many people on the teams, the sponsors and to this particular fan. I actually do keep track of the wins, the poles, and the points.

    I was with some very happy Verizon people watching Will Power receive the Astor trophy on Saturday night. They were thrilled. When we finally left the paddock after midnight the Chevrolet team members were taking a group photo. They were proud of their were award too.

    Thanks again George for all of your work. I look forward to the posts and the comments from all of you. I appreciate the respect we show each other.

  8. Personally, I’m just glad Will won it on merit…….. At least I think he did. If he’d only won because he got ‘double points’ for ovals it would have cheapened the whole thing to irrelevance.

    Gimics can sometimes bite you in the bum, and I feel that Indycar dodged a big one this year.

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