The two most egregiously misused inaccurate words about open wheel racing are ‘reunification’ and ‘civil war.’ What happened in 1996 was not ‘civil war.’ It was a boycott of the Indianapolis 500 by some of the most arrogant, hard headed rich guys on the planet. They believed their brand of racing could topple the very place and event that gave them all of their legitimacy. While pursuing that pointless, counterproductive strategy they killed themselves in a keystone-cops-like litany of colossally stupid moves, the most entertaining of which was the lap one pileup of the ‘cars and stars’ who decided they would hold their own 500 mile race on the same day as the Indianapolis 500.
That event typified the joke they became. The meager proceeds of the asset sale that followed the bankruptcy of cart went to Kevin Kalkhoven. His minions blindly tried to foist a notion that champcar was not only the logical successor to cart, but of the entire history of Indy-style racing. That, my friends, is patently offensive. How can there be ‘RE-unification’ with two deceased entities that committed suicide in spectacularly Darwinian ways? Kalkhoven’s champcar did not even exist until the IRL was already well established. His group perfected the art of talking out of both sides of their mouths.
One constant through the entire boycott and self immolation periods of cart and champcar has been a nearly continuous attack, primarily in the popular press, on Tony George. It is at his feet they enjoy placing all the blame. Nowhere is this bias more evident than the subjective piece that was Wind Tunnel on Speed TV on February 24. The first clue should be the starring role of Robin Miller and the list of guests featured on the broadcast, including one of the least appreciative winners ever, Jacques Villeneuve, and Mario Andretti, whose outspoken cart-centric stance since 1996 is indicative of the whining that makes their entire family special. “It’s got to be what cart used to be.” Mario, cart went BANKRUPT. Twice. What we should not ever do is repeat mistakes. Yet another cart-centric notion that remains offensive is the way in which they tend to lump Indy Racing into the same hapless situations in which they find themselves. Never mind the Indy Racing Series has operated successfully for twelve years with slow but steady growth. The cart group killed themselves twice, leaving a legacy of dropped venues, stiffed partners and lots and lots of litigation.
On the broadcast we learned, again, how Miller’s skewed view of the sport affects his objectivity and what poor representatives of the sport people like him really are. “I hate the fact the Indy 500 was screwed up twelve years ago.” Those of us who attended every single 500 from 1996 to the present understand that it is still pretty far away from being ‘screwed up.’ “I hate the fact the Alex Zanardi and Greg Moore didn’t get to run the Indy 500.” Robin, whose fault was that? “I love the fact that it’s back together.” BACK together? Every cart owner that really mattered voluntarily joined the IRL by 2002. “Is there a chance for turbos?” Why is turning back the clock the way to go? Why not embrace evolution and innovation? “WE’ve been beating each other up.” No WE haven’t. cart and its supporters have spent twelve years slamming all things Indy in some of the most vulgar ways imaginable.
Why can they not simply be thankful for the charity that pulled them out of their hole? My advice for Tony is to watch your back 24/7. To Jacques Villeneuve Miller made a point to say that he won “…what many of us thought was the last real Indy 500 in 1995.” This is the type of arrogance that I had hoped would vanish inside the bright light of perceived unity. “Let’s make this look and sound like an Indy Car.” Yeah, I know…just like 1995. Robin and others need to orient themselves inside the current century and stop pretending Indy Racing went on hiatus for a dozen years.
Speed ran a montage that featured the typical vitriol of the cart crowd; e.g., Tony George positioned as a scoundrel by Dan Gurney, Paul Tracy inventing the term ‘crapwagon,’ etc. Are these people we really want to embrace? The overall theme by the usual malcontents is as it always seems to be: Turn back the clock to 1995 and all will be well. These people need to realize the entire landscape has changed. The way in which the world communicates with and entertains itself is completely different. Hundreds of new television channels exist. NASCAR has molded itself into the kind of the racing hill by a significant margin. The road racing centricity of the cart folks is noble, but oval racing has its place. It always has. NASCAR does very well with it and so do small tracks all over the country. The IRL has developed several successful oval venues, including Texas, Chicagoland, Kansas, Richmond and that great new track in Iowa.
If a ‘unified’ Indy Racing Series is to make its mark, it cannot and must sacrifice its legacy tracks while pandering to an apparent drive to turn the clock back fifteen years. That is the WRONG approach. That is not stopping many in the cart brigade from already whining about their perception of safety on high speed ovals and their feelings such venues must be eliminated. What must be eliminated is any shaping of the direction of the sport by such malcontents. There are glimpses Tony has a plan, including staying on the cutting edge in terms of equipment, safety, powerplants and fuels. We need to move FORWARD and not backward. The IRL needs to reeducate ESPN and ABC. Their idea of partnership is currently a low point in television sports broadcasting. In its heyday cart was great. The past, however, is the past and we ALL must move ahead. We must embrace evolution. A good start would be for the cart crowd to lose the attitude and try humility and thanks for a change.