The 2013 IndyCar season has drawn to a close. That always leaves a melancholy feeling because what that means is that the sights, smells and sense tingling action must wait out winter before returning to the track. When racing fans distill what is really important it all boils down to how much the hair on your arms stands up when the racing begins.
The Fontana track (and for that matter the triplet Michigan and Texas World Speedway tracks) were built specifically for Indy Cars. It is a shame they do not also race at Michigan. TWS is way too far gone for Indy Cars (although Pocono is back and we used to say the same thing about that track), and we still have Texas Motor Speedway and Eddie Gossage. I hope Mark Miles has the sense to enhance that relationship. The level of patience Mr. Gossage has shown despite the consistent dysfunction of IndyCar is commendable, particularly given his boss now has open contempt for anything Hulman-George.
The 500 mile race at Fontana was utterly fantastic. There was close racing all around the track, dicing for the top spots and a down-to-the-wire battle for the championship with two guys who did not hold back. The big difference was Dixon getting lucky twice with yellows and Roger Penske making a rare miscue on a pit call to Helio. Carlos Munoz continued another amazing one-off. He was up front all night and fighting for the lead until he lost some air and put E.J. Viso’s car into the wall. Even then the crew basically gave him a standing ovation for the show he put on. That Colombian has a potentially big future. The one-offs by Tagliani and Hildebrand were also impressive before premature ends, and Charlie Kimball again showed he belongs. Will Power’s win was redemption of sorts, and Scott Dixon as a three time champion is certainly deserved.
As an enthusiastic fan I applaud Fontana head honcho Gillian Zucker for her equal enthusiasm about IndyCars on that track. It is justified and the crowd grew again this year. Here is some advice for Gillian and/or ISC: Train the people you put into authority figures, and spend money to make the track more accessible to fans. There was one instance after another in which untrained staff gave conflicting instructions or simply yelled at fans who know better. I know this is true of multiple ISC tracks but the level of ignorance, hostility or just plain confusion was especially pronounced all weekend there. I have always wanted to know what Roger Penske was thinking when he only installed one tunnel between turn three and four on a track that size. Would it have killed him to install at least tubed pedestrian tunnels close to the S/F line and/or near turn 1? I felt sorry for folks without golf carts. One aspect of the experience that was pleasantly surprising was egress. It was remarkably easy to leave the facility and was well organized, which was refreshing considering ingress was highly disorganized. Should ISC wonder about reasons attendance is lagging for NASCAR events at all of their tracks they might consider using a mirror.
IndyCar has taken a bold step for 2014. A tightly compressed schedule with no huge holes that ends before the NFL begins is just what the doctor ordered. As an added bonus there are no off-continent excursions in the middle of the season. IndyCar obfuscation remains strong. In reality they make visits to fifteen places but tout an 18 race schedule. The schedule also remains unacceptably imbalanced toward non-ovals. The schedule imbalance remains at 70/30. History shows that approach leads to failure 100% of the time. After the performances we experienced at Fontana it remains stupefying that IndyCar is not still racing at Chicagoland, Kentucky, Richmond and others.
The off season/silly season will be interesting and additional future commentary will address potential stories. The one that intrigues from Fontana was the sudden illness of E.J. Viso. Was he sick of natural causes, the Conway Syndrome or some deep conspiratorial web of international intrigue in the wake of the recent departure of Hugo Chavez? All three are possibilities, and fleshing it out will be amusing.
Waiting until March for IndyCars is going to painful.