Bring Back The Number “One”
This is not a new soapbox for me. I wrote about this subject a couple of years ago – that is the recent trend of teams or drivers that win the IZOD IndyCar championship opting out of the honor of carrying the number “1” on their car in the subsequent season. For those that consider such things to be important; next season, there is an opportunity for an American to carry the No.1 on their car for the entire season since 2000, when Greg Ray carried the badge of honor for winning the 1999 IRL championship.
For the record, no one in the IZOD IndyCar Series has raced with No.1 on their car since Michael Andretti carried it in the 2006 Indianapolis 500. It was available because his team, Andretti-Green Racing, had won the championship the prior year with Dan Wheldon – but Wheldon moved on to Target Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the 2005 season. Before that, No.1 was campaigned throughout the 2004 season by New Zealander Scott Dixon for winning the title in 2003.
Why has it suddenly become cool not to run the No.1? My use of the word “honor” was not an accident. This will come dangerously close to showing my age, but prior to the new millennium – it was considered an honor to have the No.1 on the front of your car. It announced to everyone that you had won the championship the previous year. It was one of those few times that bragging was considered totally acceptable.
It may sound as if I’m a CART/Champ Car loyalist. I am not, but I realize that for two posts in a row, I’m writing about something that CART did right. For most of CART’s existence, the top-twelve drivers during the previous year were ranked and identified by the number they carried for the subsequent year. That’s why in 1991, Rick Mears won the Indianapolis 500 carrying the No.3. The following year, Al Unser, Jr. won carrying the same number. The lower your number was, meant that you had a better year the previous season.
I know the argument that the number is that team’s brand; but the drivers move around so much as well as sponsorship liveries, that it’s tough to really align a brand to a team. Other than Helio Castroneves carrying No.3 since 2000 (except for the 2001 Indianapolis 500) and Tony Kanaan using No.11 (except for the 2011 season) what driver really is closely identified by their number?
Before CART used car numbers to denote the previous year’s ranking, USAC did it for years. Then somewhere along the way, someone decided that NASCAR’s way was better by keeping the number with the team. Why, they even assign the No.1 to be given out. It’s currently property of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, since it was run by Dale Earnhardt Inc, before they merged with Ganassi. Prior to DEI carrying No.1, it was run by the non-powerhouse team of Precision Products Racing featuring forgettable drivers such as Rick Mast and Morgan Shepherd.
The No.1 became synonymous with Ferrari when Michael Schumacher was having his way in Formula One. As far as I know, there has never been a season in F1 when the defending champion didn’t carry the number – but I could be dead wrong as I’m only a casual observer of Formula One these days.
One twist to CART using the number for its champion was at the Indianapolis 500. Since the Indianapolis 500 was sanctioned by USAC and not CART, the defending 500 champion had first refusal for the right to carry the No.1 on their car throughout the month of May. More times than not, the 500 champ didn’t exercise the option to take the number away from the CART champion. One exception was 1991, when Al Unser, Jr. was the defending CART champion. Little Al was campaigning the ’91 season with the No.1 on his car. However, when the teams arrived at Indianapolis it was Arie Luyendyk that was carrying the then-coveted No.1 since he was the defending 500 champion. Little Al was given No.2, which was Michael Andretti’s normal number in 1991, since he had finished second in the 1990 CART championship. Michael was forced to use No.10 at Indianapolis – a number that was not being used during the 1991 CART regular season. Confused?
A lot of people will disagree with me on the champion changing his or her number to the No.1 for the season. Some people claim it is unlucky. It can’t be that unlucky – cars carrying No.1 have won the Indianapolis 500 seven times, just behind car No.3 (eleven) and car No.2 (eight). It would have won twice more had Dario Franchitti been carrying it as the defending champion in 2010 and 2012. Others will claim it hurts the driver’s brand to change numbers from one season to another. How can acknowledging you won the championship last year and telling the world that you are Number One hurt your brand?
I will throw out this qualifier where Ryan Hunter-Reay is concerned – RHR currently runs No.28 on his car to signify the twenty-eight million Americans who are living with cancer in conjunction with Racing For Cancer – the organization he co-founded in honor of his mother who passed away in 2009. That number may be of such significance to Hunter-Reay, that he may choose to stick with his current No. 28 – and that would be understandable.
It’s well known that I enjoy reliving the past – not only regarding the Indianapolis 500, but in other matters. Anytime you can give a nod to history and tradition, I consider it a good thing. Having the defending champion carry the No.1 on their car is such a nod. For decades, the defending champ ran the No.1 for the next season. Suddenly that stopped about ten years ago. Hopefully, Michael Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay have no objection to setting aside the No.28 for the 2013 season and will choose to honor history and tradition. In this case, if they choose not to – it’s understandable.
Please note: I probably need my head examined based on what we’ve seen so far this season, but Susan and I will be attending tomorrow night’s Titans game against the Steelers. With that and a busier than normal schedule this week, I will not be able to put a post together for Friday. Therefore, there will be no post on Friday Oct 12 but I will return here on Monday Oct 15. I hope everyone has a nice weekend. – GP