The month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is here. Even given all of the pure and inherent greatness this month has represented for over a century there remain a determined few who choose to try and pee on it for actual racing fans every year.
ESPN web site racing writer John Oreovicz wrote a column about Jacques Villeneuve that was mostly innocuous enough about his return to the big race after 19 years and several other interesting career phases, including his long and mostly successful/enriching run in Formula 1. The problem is not that type of nostalgia, it is poking at the Indy wound that is never allowed to heal.
Oreovicz cited dialog between Villeneuve and local radio host who asked for commentary about 1995 being ‘the last real Indy 500.’ Uh-oh. Out came the old cart playbook complete with the same sound bites:
‘The IRL days were not really the best, I would say.’
‘They have been doing a good job of rebuilding it so it’s picking up again — just the level of drivers and professionalism. But a lot of damage was done and it’s tough to recover from that.’
‘It’s been extremely important and it’s a shame to see how IndyCar has gone down from 15 or 20 years ago. To see it being rebuilt is amazing, and I hope it keeps carrying on in this positive direction.’
This spouting of aging, mephitic dung is precisely why Jacques Villeneuve, as exciting as his 1995 win was, remains the least favorite 500 winner for many. Is it not time almost twenty years later for folks inclined toward that point of view to finally grow up? Apparently not. Anyone who harbors any notion of ‘last real 500’ exposes two things about themselves: 1) They really have no clear or broad understanding of what the event is really all about and that it really is much bigger than not only everyone who has ever competed but even anyone who has won, and 2) They have no right to refer to themselves as fans with a straight face. In the Facebook comment section that follows the linked story, IndyCar blogger Paul Dalbey summed it up best: ‘The Indianapolis 500 always has been and always will be bigger than the men that compete in it.’
The remainder of that particular comment section thus far is an assortment of various sentiment (some particularly more clueless than others) but in one Oreovicz reply his true colors are reinforced: ‘…nobody is going to forget about it until the guy who caused it apologizes and takes some accountability.’ I realize John’s demographic group does not have the benefit of being fans of the sport for two or three decades before the actual ‘split’ in 1979 and I can overlook a certain amount of such willful ignorance probably borne of relative youth. One day those who eschew objectivity in favor of obfuscation might come to a realization of actual fact. Tony George’s creation of the Indy Racing League did not cause split damage, the reaction to it by the cart community did. It was that group that forced the acrimony and resultant damage.
Real racing fans do not care about apologies or hold grudges and always look forward. That is relatively difficult to do considering most of those who actually caused the problem slithered back after they failed, twice, on their own then relied on the graciousness and charity of the man they still foolishly blame for a mess they created all by themselves.
All that said should any of us be surprised about such vulgar rhetoric? After all about 95% of the Euro-centric IndyCar field would drop any and all ovals if given a chance, have already evolved the schedule to 70% non-oval including a non-oval event at IMS in May, and with continuing arrogance that is patently offensive to many continue to assert how much better off the entire sport is today with themselves as the key players.
This May marks the 50th Indianapolis 500 I have attended. My experience shows me that the race has always been bigger than those who compete in it. I will enjoy this one as much as any, including all the ones I chose not to boycott or make fun of during those so-called ‘dark’ days. My vacation schedule is set and I will be there every day the track is open again. I cannot say the same about most of those who continue to spout arrogant nonsense about it. Like every other year there are many more great and compelling stories than twenty year old hostility. Will the really great stories get fleshed out? We shall see.