A Tale Of Two Championships
The IZOD IndyCar Series dropped a mid-season surprise yesterday, when series officials announced that there would be two champions recognized at the end of each season – a road course champion and an oval champion, as well as an overall season champion. This change goes into effect this season.
The reaction I’ve read at various sites has been mixed. I’ve seen where some are praising the move; while some compare it to Tee-ball, where everyone gets a trophy in order to help everyone’s self-esteem. Being the traditionalist that I am, some might be surprised that I am in favor of this move.
What does it hurt? The points system remains the same, and it does not affect the overall championship picture; nor does it take away from the championship. Instead, it adds some intrigue to races within each discipline.
Based on what we saw in the first two races of the season, it looked as if Will Power might possibly run away with the championship – although things have tightened up in the last couple of races. Still, even if Power wins the overall championship based on his street/road course acumen – this new format gives those that are highly skilled on the ovals something to shoot for. And right now, we’re really not too sure as to how Power will perform on the ovals. It’s not likely, but conceivable that Power could leave Kansas out of the points lead this weekend. But I’ll reiterate – this plan has no effect on which driver will win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, but there are some bonuses and prestige (especially for sponsors) in winning the title for one of the disciplines.
It’s entirely possible that the overall champion will not win the title in either discipline. If you applied this new format to previous seasons since road course racing was introduced in 2005 – Dan Wheldon would have won the oval championship in 2006, while Scott Dixon would have been the road course champion. But who won the overall title in 2006? Sam Hornish, Jr.
My question is – why does anyone have a problem with it? Does it dilute the overall championship? I don’t think so. Does it promote more interest among the fans? In most cases, yes. I know there are some purists out there who are probably turned off by it, but all they have to do is ignore it if they don’t like it. I’ve read some comments that the league should not do something like this in mid-season. Again, I’ll ask…why not? Would the teams have raced any differently had this been in place at the start of the season? No.
This isn’t a new or novel concept. It was brought up as an idea for the unification efforts between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League prior to the 2008 season. I can recall the suggestion coming up in the early nineties with CART, as fans of one discipline or the other wanted something for “their” side. So after almost twenty years of tossing this idea around, someone has finally decided to implement it.
Credit new CEO Randy Bernard for having the guts (or naivety) to put it into motion. This is what a fresh set of eyes does for the sport. Bernard received a lot of criticism when his hiring was first announced – from myself, included. He knew nothing about our sport, he had never been to a race before, and the all too obvious jokes flew about his coming over from Professional Bull Riders. But he has come in and quickly put his stamp on several key areas, while having the wherewithal to admit there are many aspects of this sport he knows nothing about. But he has shown his wisdom to defer to experts in those areas where his expertise is lacking.
Randy Bernard also seems intent on honoring the rich history and tradition of this sport, as well as being one of the first in league history to want to actually listen to what the fans have to say. The trophy for each discipline is to be named in honor of an iconic figure of the fans choosing. The league will take nominations from fans for each trophy, and then have fans vote online to choose between the top five names.
For the record; my choices for the road course trophy would be between Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney or Bobby Rahal. My preference for the oval trophy would be AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Rick Mears, Bill Vukovich or a combined effort of “The Unser’s”.
I don’t expect this to be the last tweaking that Randy Bernard may attempt. There is talk that he may re-instate a Triple Crown, like they had in the seventies – three 500 mile events that were run at Indianapolis, Pocono and the long-gone Ontario Motor Speedway, which was pretty much a clone of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I would support such a plan to maybe even include 400-milers at Michigan and Fontana – of course, they would have to be back on the schedule first. I also wouldn’t have a problem in assigning more points for two of the venues in the Triple Crown and even more points for the Indianapolis 500. It’s not just another race and shouldn’t be treated as such.
Most likely though, there will be a designated set of four or more races that will be considered “majors” or part of a “Grand Slam“ as was suggested by Tony Johns over at Pop Off Valve. This would make sense given yesterday’s announcement and the fact that there is a shortage of tracks currently on the schedule that would be suitable for running four or five hundred mile races for a Triple Crown. It would be easier to designate races like Indy, Long Beach and a couple of others, as the ones that teams would want to focus a little more attention on.
So long as Mr. Bernard doesn’t try to emulate NASCAR’s cheesy Chase for the Championship with an artificial ‘playoff” format – I’m probably going to be fine with whatever direction he decides to go. Let’s face it – the IZOD IndyCar Series has been fairly rudderless for years. With IZOD coming on board and Randy Bernard’s steady hand on the tiller, these new ideas from some fresh minds may be just what the series needs to pull it out of the doldrums in the eyes of the mainstream fans. And like it or not, the mainstream fans are what they need to survive. Let’s let the new faces give it a try without bucking them at every turn. It’s not like the old way of doing things was working all that well.