Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

February 16, 2012

Turning IndyCar Into Something It Is Not: Stop It.

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:29 pm

As a lifelong IndyCar fan since the 1950s, it amuses me to read some of the commentary these days about IndyCar from fans of other disciplines. Now that we have successfully navigated through the scorched earth wrought by self-interested mutineers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, IndyCar appears poised once again to grow in meaningful ways on its own. The one aspect of the sport that is supposed to set it apart from the other major disciplines; e.g., Formula One, NASCAR and the conglomeration of racing known as short track, not to mention other disciplines such as drag racing and off-road, is diversity of styles, which is supposed to mean successful teams and drivers in IndyCar are more talented than their counterparts in other disciplines.

In theory that notion is commendable and is, to a certain extent, a marketing push for the series. A primary problem today is the same problem that has plagued the series since the 1970s. Too many outsiders want to claim IndyCar as their own. Arrogance and egos get in the way. Those unfamiliar with the use of mirrors are quick to blame all real and perceived problems on Tony George, even today. They fail to realize that without his family money and lineage there would be no Indy Car branch of the sport today.

Worse, this group of people has never and probably never will understand the importance of the Indianapolis 500 as the centerpiece of the sport. It is not that such racing enthusiasts should be excluded from following the sport. As a matter of fact many of these people are utterly obsessed with IndyCar, even if the obsession is dark and counterproductive.

One of the manifestations of this involves the possibility that 19-year Formula One veteran and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello may drive a full Indy Car season with KV Racing…not necessarily because he has chosen to do so, but because he is unable to secure a ride in F-1 and because he is friendly with Tony Kanaan. There is also a rumor that Adrian Sutil, another F-1 refugee who effectively burned bridges there by slamming F-1 pretty boy Lewis Hamilton not to mention slitting the throat of an owner with a broken champagne glass (oddly appropriate, however), may also be pursuing a ride in Indy Car. Many of the 1995-centric ownership of the series seem willing to consider these guys before a slew of younger, hungrier and deserving drivers with much more long-term upside potential. Many of the Formula One washouts do not even want to include ovals in their plans. That is just insulting.

That said, having Rubens Barrichello or even Adrian Sutil in the series may not be a bad thing from a marketing standpoint. The addition of a few NASCAR stars would make it even more interesting. The danger of a regression to what many believe they had in 1995, however, is much more sinister.  Some of the Barrichello and Sutil proponents even have the audacity to proclaim they would bring an excitement not seen in years to the 500. My reaction? These people do not have the first clue about the 500 in the first place and do not understand much about it. There were not enough of them to justify keeping the USGP outside the first decade of this century. Of course much of that problem was caused by their arrogance, including the ‘tyre’ fiasco, eight years of juvenile bitching about the place and contrived ‘racing’ a lot of the time.

So what would these fans bring to the 500? Hopefully not air horns and oversized flags that block my view. The last time that crap happened in my stand some fellow actual fans attempted to straighten the colon of some obnoxious, drunk, xenophobic foreigner with the business end of the stupid flagpole with which he was annoying others. I appreciate their enthusiasm and such behavio(u)r may be appropriate at some F-1 event, but respect for others who may be paying close attention to strategy, storylines and action, not to mention being able to see, hear and smell the damned race, is absolutely necessary.

The Disciple advice of the day:

-Learn about the Indianapolis 500 and respect what it is, not what you believe it could be if a couple of Formula One retirees were given rides.

-Stop trying to turn the clock back to some perceived utopia you believe existed in a previous evolutionary state. It is always better to shoot for what we could be in five years, not what you think we were twenty years ago.

-Support cultivation of new stars, not the recycling and retirement tours of racing senior citizens.

Don’t get me started on the way certain flat-earthers are actively gutting Indy Car as they regress. Rumo(u)rs of the inclusion of standing starts, no double wide restarts, etc., are sickening. On the other hand, addition of other unique elements; e.g., heat races at Iowa, give hope. Randy Bernard remains bullish on making Indy Car successful and that is commendable. He still needs to be very careful about sources of advice.

When does the season begin again?

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8 Comments »

  1. AMEN to all of that! I have a hard time believing that Jimmy Vasser or Kevin Kalkhoven would assent to allowing Rubens Barrichello to NOT run Indy when it is the biggest payday of the year in the sport, as well as the greatest opportunity for exposure. That would not be a wise use of limited financial resources.

    Mario Andretti still ran at Indy during his championship F-1 season. Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Jochen Rindt, Nigel Mansell and others “made” time to run at Indy; the only one of those who was past his F-1 days was Mansell.

    To be sure, getting an F-1 veteran into IndyCar adds credibility to the series as a whole, but it is not critical. Nor should such an entry be at the expense of other drivers who have already made their bones in the series up to now (the names Vitor Meira and Buddy Rice being on the tip of my tongue.)

    What is far more critical to IndyCar is building attendance at events and adding viewers to the TV ratings. Those two things will do far more to advance the series than adding someone who cannot get an F-1 ride to his liking.

    Comment by SkipinSC — February 16, 2012 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

  2. One big problem with that, SkipinSC. The F1 drivers you named at the beginning were all proven winners. Barrichello and Sutil are are anything but. They would not add anything to the prestige of the Indy 500 except maybe to their own countrymen. Worse yet, they won’t be anywhere near the front at the finish. Disciple is right–whoever made the claim these F1 rejects would inject excitement to Indy must be on something. Assuming they make the race, that’s all they’ll be–just in the race.

    Comment by DOUG — February 16, 2012 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  3. Formula 1 has disdained Indy for years simply by scheduling the Monaco GP the same weekend. F1 drivers thus are prevented from adding to the 500. Thus just another example of a short sided war between series. Would not it be great to see Vettel and Hamilton try their hand the same way Clark and Hill did?

    Comment by J STEIN — February 16, 2012 @ 7:15 pm | Reply

  4. “popular” is the missing word from the title of your post, I assume.
    Editor’s Note: You know what they say about ‘assume.’ Popular enough not to have killed itself. Twice.

    Comment by J.B. — February 17, 2012 @ 12:44 am | Reply

  5. Someone once asked why there was not a retirement program for drivers and the answer was that there was one,it was called sports car racing. Let’s not allow IndyCar become the F1 retirement program……work something out with F1 so the current top dogs can have a run at Dario,etc. during May. That would generate interest

    Comment by J STEIN — February 17, 2012 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  6. As for Vitor Meira vs. Rubens Barrichello, I really don’t care. I know Meira has been friendly with the fans but I kind of see him as the IndyCar equivalent of Kenny Wallace (or the modern equivalent of Raul Boesel). Likable guy but mediocre to the core. I know he finished 2nd at Indy but that was in the Panther car that always finishes 2nd there no matter who drives it. He’s had lots of opportunities and hasn’t won. I think an eight or nine year career is sufficient for him. I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the field, but I don’t see him as a huge snub. On the flip side, I don’t think Barrichello was particularly great in F1 (he won all his races when either Ferrari was overwhelmingly dominant or Brawn was overwhelmingly dominant), but he’d probably be equally good with the fans and bring a larger audience. I don’t think he’d be any more competitive on the track than Meira was, but that’s just a guess. Given how great people like Zanardi and da Matta and Bourdais were in CART/Champ Car and how lousy they were in F1, maybe an F1 driver past his prime might do better than I think, but I’m not counting on it… Stefan Johansson and Mark Blundell did a lot better than the CART champions in F1 and didn’t set the world on fire in CART (okay, Blundell did in one season, but apart from that, was extremely mediocre). Takuma Sato’s closer to his prime and hasn’t looked like an Indy legend. As far as Brazilian veteran drivers are concerned, I’d rather see Bruno Junqueira get a full-time ride than either of those two. I understand that people think he wasn’t the same driver after his 2005 Indy wreck. I think that’s incorrect since he was able to get three straight podiums for Coyne in Champ Car in 2007, and I hate how his Indy ride was ripped from under him two out of three years. However, all these guys are probably nearing the ends of their careers, and maybe thinking about fresher blood makes more sense than discussing Meira, Barrichello, or Junqueira. For the record, I do expect Barrichello will have a ride and will compete on every oval (he was concerned about Texas, not Indy, but I think Kanaan will talk him into it), Junqueira will be Indy-only, and Meira will have nothing. And I can live with that.

    Buddy Rice on the other hand I do consider a huge (and strange) omission. This wasn’t a guy like Sam Hornish or Dan Wheldon who got pigeonholed as an “oval specialist” and therefore wasn’t able to find rides on road courses (I suspect that’s why Hornish bolted to NASCAR because he felt he would lose his Penske ride otherwise since he struggled on road courses; I really don’t think Wheldon was THAT bad on road/street courses – he won the first IRL street race, and he didn’t cause really stupid wrecks like Castroneves, Tracy, and Marco have been prone to do…) Rice drove in Toyota Atlantic when it WAS mostly road courses and was one of the dominant drivers, then won Indy, then won the 24 Hours of Daytona. So he’s proven at Indy, he’s young, he’s American, and he’s good on road courses. He’d at least be doing as well as Ryan Hunter-Reay now. I don’t see why he’s become a persona non grata. In retrospect, I think I’d have rather seen him in the #27 than James Hinchcliffe (similar to how Rice got his first big break after Kenny Brack’s near-fatal injury). Andretti could market itself as an all-American team, although I suppose they still could since Canada is on the north American continent, and Hinchcliffe does seem to have some potential and a cool personality. I do miss Rice though. Maybe people have just stayed away because as with Junqueira they think Rice wasn’t the same after his Indy wreck. I think that’s mistaken too. I tend to think the Rahal team was just putting 90% of the effort into Danica’s team and relatively ignoring Rice. Rahal has been managed poorly and there’s a reason the team’s been gone for years. Sato, Jourdain, and Filippi? Ooh, there’s a powerhouse (Filippi is almost certainly the best and freshest of the three). I like Jourdain, but usually hiring guys who have been gone for nearly a decade isn’t the best strategy…

    Barrichello I can understand. Sutil I really can’t, and although he was decent in F1, I don’t think he’d do well in this transition. As for bringing current F1 or NASCAR stars to Indy, I think that could only happen if the Indy 500 was moved to Monday, although I know a lot of teams in F1 and NASCAR don’t want their drivers participating in extracurricular activities much anymore, so maybe that era has completely passed…

    Comment by Sean Wrona — February 18, 2012 @ 1:19 am | Reply

  7. I don’t know why I wrote “north American” instead of “North American”. I certainly didn’t mean to, and I’m correcting myself before you comment on my grammar…

    Comment by Sean Wrona — February 18, 2012 @ 1:22 am | Reply

  8. Being a lifelong auto racing fan, I understand the importance of maintaining tradition, but I also understand that all of the successful forms of motor-sports have evolved over the years. The series that did not keep up with the changing times have lost much of their fan base to other forms of entertainment. At my local dirt track that I attended each week as a child, the attendance that once packed the track has dwindled down to a handful of hardcore fans. The racing is as good as it was, and the track hasn’t changed a bit, but the fans that once flocked their every week have either passed away or found other things to do on their Saturday nights. NASCAR and F1 is drastically different in terms of the presentation from when I started watching in the 70’s, but both series have successfully evolved to the juggernauts they are today by maintaining certain parts of tradition while changing other parts with the times. NASCAR is no longer the sole domain of Southern drivers that built their cars in some small workshop in the backyard. Drivers like Gordon, Johnson, Bush, Bowyer, etc now outnumber the good old boys that once dominated NASCAR and this has only expanded the sports to different non traditional markets.

    INDYCAR despite all of the tradition and history has struggled to maintain it’s place among other forms of motor-sports. Not to get in to the why, I think it’s important that the series looks forward instead of hanging on to every tradition for fear of alienating a small but vocal group of hardcore fans. Of the varies series that have called themselves INDYCAR (USAC, CART, IRL, CHAMP) there has been a failing to develop a viable series that could co-exist with the INDY 500. Instead of being like NASCAR and the Daytona 500 were one helps the other their has always been a mindset in INDYCAR that a strong series would take away from the 500. It’s as if the 500 was the only thing that matters and you could turn your TV off until next May. Now, I agree that the Indy 500 should still maintain it’s traditions, but it must not be at the expense of the series. That being said, I like Randy’s approach of trying to maintain the 500 for what it is while trying new rules and ideas to develop the overall series.

    Open wheel racing has an advantage that NASCAR does not have and that is that more people worldwide follow open-wheel racing then stock cars. Drivers like Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill traveled to Indy in the 60’s because of that commonality and the similarities to what they were doing overseas’s. F1 is INDYCAR’s distant cousin and to reject anything that derives from it just because it is not part of narrow mind of tradition is foolish. If it works in F1 why not try it here. They only have 300 million viewers each week, so they might be doing something right. It is the same with NASCAR. Double file restarts did not start in INDYCAR, but it made the show better and that is whats important. Heat races I think is a great idea and most fans agree. But we can’t slam something like standing starts on the grounds it’s not tradition, but embrace heat races and double file restarts. If it makes the show better and increase ratings then INDYCAR should give it a try.

    The last point is that the most important thing that I think Randy is trying to do is develop a long-term plan for the series not just the 500. It seems to me that everything they are trying concerning the rules package is geared to a long-term plan to increase TV ratings and attendance. Not everybody is going to like every change, but we must look at it from where we are as a sport and where we want to be. If they goal is to get to similar numbers as NASCAR then we must look at it by asking how can we make the show better. As long as they maintain the traditions of the 500 then we should all be open to change if it will better the series.

    Comment by Brian in NY — February 18, 2012 @ 2:35 pm | Reply


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