The leadership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has officially poked fate in the eye with a really big stick. A rumored announcement that IndyCar will host a ‘race’ on the infield circuit to kick off the month of May was made official this week. The deep traditionalist in me who has been spending money at that track since 1959 remains deeply offended, but that in and of itself does not really matter because my demo is no longer considered crucial to attract. My feelings are not necessarily what makes practical sense, because for the sport to continue folks much younger than my generation must become long term fans that also attend, watch and spend money. Far too many of them are completely disinterested or oblivious. That is at the heart of all current large issues facing the sport.
What really bothers many of us is the way in which various dartboard strategies get attempted before eventually failing miserably. No open wheel leader in more than a generation has had the vision or courage to really get back to basics. The main thing that attracted earlier generations was an omnipresent spirit of innovation. It was genuinely exciting to see the creations teams rolled into competition each year. Despite any rule that was concocted racers always seemed to defy the physics of rules to go a little (sometimes a lot) faster. Introduction of exotic rear-engine machines, ground effects, turbines and other designs inspired imagination. Even stories like a little team with a recycled school bus engine added to the mystique. One point many of the critics make repeatedly is concern about spec cars. It is easy to dismiss much of the online tantrum throwing about aesthetics and such but the point of their consternation remains valid. How does management expect anyone to get excited about a field of drivers racing essentially identical cars? I know there are two engine suppliers but in a big picture sense that is not enough. Fans do not see the engines from the stands or on television. Can anyone imagine how much more quickly NASCAR would sink if all drivers were forced into a ‘Fordolet’ only even if they got to choose one of two engines? This issue is perhaps the only one that gets agreement from both sides of the open wheel chasm that has existed for decades.
When I became attracted to the sport there were master builders who were as famous as the drivers. Rogue characters always made it even more interesting. Andy Granatelli comes to mind. Over time it has become painfully obvious that spec is no longer a viable path. It does not matter what jargon-filled, trumpeted strategy the latest leader unleashes. If the cars are the same the results will be too.
This makes the notion that a May road course race will improve the 500 all the more laughable. It will be the exact same spec cars only slower. This latest dart throw attempt has much bigger potential to dilute the 500, and that is unforgivable. America has not all of a sudden become a nation of rabid road racing enthusiasts. Miles and Company seem to have forgotten (or never really knew) what draws people to the motor speedway in MAY. Another popular taunt among the critics is that oval racing is no longer a viable strategy. The reality is any type of venue is in the position of decreasing popularity. Further, history and facts show that series whose basis is road racing fail in America every single time. This makes the latest attempt at making a repeated mistake and hoping for a different result even more astonishing.
IMS invented the presentation of fast oval racing and perfected it over decades, eventually handing the formula over to NASCAR unwittingly and for free and without even realizing they had been taken.
IndyCar, when predominately based on non-ovals, fails. That has occurred twice in this generation. In a larger sense the real problem is not necessarily even ovals or road courses, it is what races on them.
Spend money to encourage genuinely meaningful innovation, allow more than Dallara in, encourage increased engine and tire competition and break records. That is far more likely to attract fans to races and qualification days. We are aware that it will cost money but we have little to show for any recent expenditures anyway. Want to be really bold, Mr. Miles and Mr. Boles? Find a way to re-introduce innovation and speed that actually resonates, and learn both the good and the bad from history. And good luck with the gods of IMS. They may have gotten angry.