The Significance Of A Championship
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.