IndyCar Remains Its Own Worst Enemy

Graham CrackerSaturday in Fontana, California the micromanaging blind squirrels of IndyCar management found a nut and the drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series unleashed the most edge-of-the-seat exciting race since the early 2000s. 80 lead changes among more than half the field. The start featured a long initial green period with more slicing and dicing than a culinary arts school. It was simply amazing; almost awe inspiring. Even the television staff in the booth lost all pretense of being objective announcers who just call the race and simply became high heart rate, oohing and aaahhhing, cheering fans like everyone else toward the end. Fans were absolutely mesmerized.

The bitching began before the race even concluded. Tim Cindric. Will Power. Juan Montoya. Tony Kanaan. Their common message? Decrying ‘pack racing.’ Using words like ‘crazy.’ Comparing the race to Las Vegas in 2011. Invoking the name of the late Dan Wheldon. Trying to position themselves as knowing more than IndyCar, any fan, or anyone else.

It is easy to understand a lot of their common frustration. As Dario Franchitti opined in a tweet the series won’t listen to anything any of them say so why not take complaints public. Conflict often breeds press and IndyCar can use all of that they can get. Public venting is always good for soap operas and Robin Miller columns but that may still remain unlikely to draw Captain Eyebrows off the golf course long enough to reinforce the notion that a race that great played out in front of so few people in the country’s second largest media market might be better served with a consistent fall date and actual presentation effort, something we have not seen on big ovals outside Indy for years.

What becomes offensive to 50+ year fans like myself is the tone mic spewers take. When they inevitably play the ‘were you in the cockpit/do you think you could do it’ card eyes begin to roll. My first inclination is to tell them to cram the obfuscation. If I was as talented and young as many of them are I would jump in in a millisecond and fully embrace the challenge. But I am old and have never been that talented, so essentially all they seem to be doing is waving their genitals around and positioning everyone else as ignorant. That is offensive. It gets even more disingenuous when they start tossing Dan Wheldon’s name around as a reason the kind of racing we saw yesterday is ‘bad.’

OMG PACK RACINGMy cynical side suspects the last remnants of the series that killed itself twice makes the mistake of lumping ANY oval race into a ‘pack racing’ bucket simply because no right turns are involved. Realistically any comparison of Fontana on Saturday to Las Vegas in 2011 seem gratuitously dishonest and are spouted primarily to support a flawed agenda. That agenda that in turn leads to all sorts of chicken little hyperbole from selected participants and assorted imbeciles on the Internet about all sorts of dire possibilities such as a car into the stands, driver death or injury, waiting for the ‘big one,’ Russian roulette, etc. Fontana is an ultra-wide track with multiple grooves and more space for squawkers to dive bomb between grooves with no regard for anyone else on the track, something the chronic complainers seemed to do all day. They usually create the danger and subsequent mayhem they decry.

It is difficult to understand how a complete crap show at, say, Detroit can be viewed more favorably than Fontana on Saturday. How can you call something a race when cars are kept away from one another, especially on ovals? I am an American fan who is a big fan of American oval racing. I am sick and tired of formula trained road racers trying to steal or co-opt that legacy to pretend they are Formula 1, which has never been mainstream popular in the United States.

The Fontana race was EXACTLY the kind of show I crave. Most never want to see any accidents or injury. Technology that allows me into various cockpits complete with telemetry on large screens only enhances the total experience. We will rarely see a better oval race than this and I have high hopes for Pocono. I pray the mutineers do not screw that up in advance.

10 replies to “IndyCar Remains Its Own Worst Enemy

  1. Could not agree more! My ass was stuck to my chaIr for almost the entire race. NBCSN should harvest a plethora of highlights to cross promote IndyCar during all their NASCAR programming. (Yeah, right….)

  2. Looks like that type of racing didn’t draw very many people. Estimates are at 5,000 or less. Pretty pathetic.

    1. The Indycar management makes sure that happens. This is how they destroy oval races. Kentucky was a classic case of changing dates every year and scheduling at the worst times possible until you kill the race off. Fontana near July 1. How brilliant.

      Even after all this the ownership at Fontana is still willing to run the race, in September. Will commonsense rule or will the Boston Marketing Group and the F1 Lite boys?

  3. So the argument goes: if we (drivers) are going to do this in front of 5,000 people, what are we doing? Well according to you, if they did race this way regularly there would be 100,000 people in the stands regularly. Well there isn’t 100,000 in the stands and there is not because the series and the drivers wanted that way after 2011. So where do you go from here? With drivers getting hurt or killed as deemed unacceptable in this current age? So far it’s A.J. Foyt, Ed Carpenter, and you that are for this style of racing. There is a lot of division on this so once again it will split opinions. Just what IndyCar needs, another split.

  4. Highlights made it look like a fantastic race. Unfortunately as long as the broadcasts are relegated to NBCSN, for whatever reasons, I will not be able to view them.

  5. And now, an opinion from someone involved in the automotive industry longer than most of you have been alive:

    Editor’s Note: Not sure how cool it is to link the text of an entire piece and it may be taken down at some point, but while it lasts I reserve the right as a fan who has been a paying customer of the sport since the late 1950s to disagree here and there.

    INDYCAR ON THE EDGE By Peter M. De Lorenzo

    Detroit. There are two prevailing schools of thought about the MAVTV 500 IndyCar race that was run last Saturday at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. One perspective suggests that it was one of the best Indy-type car races in history, with lead changes galore and enough edge-of-the-seat excitement to last a lifetime.
    Editor’s Note: This is the correct perspective.

    The other perspective was that it was as if everyone had collectively forgotten what happened at Las Vegas Motor Speedway four years ago when “pack racing” cost Dan Wheldon his life in a horrific crash that could have easily caused multiple fatalities and in hindsight, was eminently preventable.
    Editor’s Note: No one has forgotten what happened at LVMS four years ago. I was there and wept openly with most other fans. ‘Pack racing’ did not cause Wheldon’s death. Contact with another car sent his car airborne at a bad angle, and he hit his head a metal pole with no give. THAT is what caused his death. The same exact fate could have occurred with just two cars on the track and not over 30. It would be just as stupid and inaccurate to claim ‘pack racing’ claimed the life of Jeff Krosnoff or ‘pack racing’ ended Dario Franchitti’s career. This blatant, agenda-riddled hysteria is intellectually dishonest. It is ‘pack racing’ Tourettes.

    As if I needed to mention it again for those who have read this column over the years, I happen to loathe restrictor-plate racing in NASCAR. I think it’s senseless, beyond stupid, and it is only pure luck that more drivers haven’t been severely injured – or worse – since NASCAR started playing that game.
    Editor’s Note: I don’t watch NASCAR that often unless I’m doing something else and need background entertainment. Many NASCAR drivers hate it too but they have never mutinied or sabotaged their own livelihood.

    But what went down at the Auto Club Speedway last Saturday was much worse, achieving a level of absurdity that I find to be almost incomprehensible (despite Ed Carpenter’s vehement dismissal via twitter of those who deigned to question the validity of that type of racing). Mr. Carpenter is entitled to his opinion, but IndyCar better get real and listen to its core group of drivers, who to a man suggested that what was going on during that race was the motorized version of Russian Roulette.
    Editor’s Note: The only thing more stupid than referring to Fontana as ‘pack racing’ is the fear mongering use of such idiotic, inapplicable terms such as ‘Russian Roulette.’ Any auto race that is actually a race can have a bad accident. The vast majority do not, and this form of racing is, thankfully, safer than it has ever been. The latest near-fatality was James Hinchcliffe’s SINGLE CAR accident at Indianapolis. Science tells us any human being will probably die if they experience a split second 120G jolt. Hinchcliffe took 125Gs along with a piece of suspension into his pelvis, and will be 100% in the not to distant future. The ‘core group’ of IndyCar drivers are mostly up there in years, and their protesting is mostly just self-interested mutiny. If they are that worried about racing they ought to try Formula E.

    It’s one level of stupid to drive around in a “stock” car for 500 miles in a pack of cars that could, at any moment, dissolve into chaos and carnage. It has become a sick ritual in NASCAR that leaves the drivers just shrugging their shoulders, as if powerless to do anything about it. (They’re not powerless, but dealing with NASCAR’s incredible inertia is too debilitating to contemplate for most of them, apparently.) But careening around Auto Club Speedway in a pack of open-wheel machines – even with aero “spats” partially shielding the rear wheels – is an entirely different dimension of stupid, a Twilight Zone of nonsensical absurdity that pretty much defies all rational explanation.
    Editor’s Note: Only if you’re chicken little and live in a fantasy world. Saturday was 23 cars on a 2 mile track with five lanes. As tires wore the cars spread out. Most of the sphincter-puckering moments came when one or more of the ‘core drivers’ bitching the loudest about ‘pack racing’ made startlingly aggressive moves with no regard for any other competitors on the track. In other words the tightest racing was something they themselves created.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love high-speed racing on the superspeedways as much as anyone, when it has at least a shred of a viable context (I cherish my many visits to Michigan International Speedway back in the day of big horsepower Indy cars). But throwing a blanket of aero restrictions on open-wheel Indy cars and expecting it to all work out just fine is a level of wishful thinking that I find to be incomprehensible.
    Editor’s Note: I think we’re all up for less micromanagement by IndyCar but from a fan standpoint the kind of racing many of us witnessed Saturday is PRECISELY what we crave every week.

    I am not going to go over the litany of incidents that occurred during last Saturday’s race – needless to say, Ryan Briscoe was lucky to escape without injury – because there were so many close calls on every lap that I lost count.
    Editor’s Note: So was everyone else who has ever crashed in a car race.

    Yes, of course, on one level it was exciting – akin to watching a plane crash-in-the-moment-before-impact warped kind of way – but that feeling was fleeting at best, because when I listened to Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power after the race, I was immediately jolted back to a grim reality.
    Editor’s Note: I was immediately jolted back to the class warfare that has plagued the sport for the past 35 years, and those bastards began resuming fire. I am sick and tired of having American open wheel racing co-opted by self-interested road racers hellbent on transforming IndyCar into domestic F-1. That approach has a 100% failure rate here. If those guys are unwilling to give fans the quality show they got in Fontana (as opposed to pure horse shit they get in places like Detroit) there are plenty of American open wheel racers who would be happy to take their places. Their open defiance continues to offend me greatly and they either need to stick a sock in it or get the f*** out.

    When Montoya, one of my all-time favorites and someone who is tough as nails on a racetrack called it “stupid,” it was sobering. But when I listened to Tony Kanaan, who made a point of suggesting that anyone who “likes” what they saw in that race has no clue as to what it’s like in the cockpit and how absurd it really is, that validated my thoughts and was enough for me.
    Editor’s Note: I think they should make way for deserving YOUNG drivers. They have their Borgs so get out of the way.

    I am a very vocal proponent of less down force and more horsepower when it comes to Indy cars. It’s what many drivers, past and present, including none other than Rick Mears – one of the sport’s all-time greats – have suggested. And I wholeheartedly agree with them. The cars need to be harder to drive because running around in packs is just an accident – and severe injury or a fatality – waiting to happen. Yes, you can say what happened on Sunday was a great race on a certain level, but for most of the drivers behind the wheel that day it was a total crap shoot and a careening dance of survival. And it simply doesn’t have to be that way and shouldn’t be that way.
    Editors’s Note: And yet they survived. Again. The level of excitement we say is just about the only way IndyCar will thrive. Put hard to drive cars on the track and people won’t come at all to see 23 cars in a parade.

    And spare me the argument that “racing is dangerous so get over it” blah-blah-blah, because of course it is. It always has been and always will be in fact. But what went on at California was simply inexcusable, especially given the context of what happened in Las Vegas, and I have no doubt in my mind that IndyCar got away with one on Sunday.
    Editor’s Note: What is inexcusable as well as intellectually dishonest is comparing Fontana to Las Vegas 2011. It is beyond disingenuous.

    Balls-out Indy car racing is sensational, there’s really nothing like it for the truly knowledgeable racing enthusiasts who have been following the sport for years. But configuring the current spec-racer Indy cars for high downforce on superspeedways so that they run around in wheel-to-wheel packs for three hours is simply unfathomable and unconscionable.
    Editor’s Note: Well it’s a good thing they actually didn’t do that then.

    Having said that, I was extremely happy for Graham Rahal, who drove a great race (see more coverage in “The Line” –WG). And I am relieved that I do not have to write about injuries or death today. The racing at the California Speedway wasn’t the only thing on The Edge for IndyCar last weekend, however. It’s clear to anyone with a modicum of intelligence when it comes to this sport that the entire IndyCar series is in serious jeopardy.
    Editor’s Note: And what will kill it is mutinous, unwilling participants and the non-racing they seem to want. It’s time for those of us who are left to reclaim IndyCar. Enough is enough.

    After seeing those drivers take tremendous risks on every lap and realizing that there were 3,500 fans – at best – at Auto Club Speedway to witness it, it is incomprehensible to me that the sport can continue on its present course. It doesn’t make sense for the drivers, the team owners, the manufacturers, the sponsors or the television partners because as I’ve said repeatedly over the last several years, it is simply unsustainable.
    Editor’s Note: Perhaps if the braintrust did not use a dart board to schedule that event and left it, say, in the fall in the evening, it could build equity. But since IndyCar no longer takes Indy-style presentation on the road, does not promote, and sends Micahel Young out there to scream into a mic as support what the hell do you expect?

    I cannot fathom why the IndyCar team owners haven’t taken control of the sport at this juncture, because it’s clear that IndyCar CEO Mark Miles is not only completely over his head, he’s in danger of running the entire series right into the ground. (Watch Robin Miller, this country’s dean of open-wheel motorsport journalism, go off on Miles in his post-race comments from California here.)
    Editor’s Note: That has worked so well the last two times they have tried and failed.

    The problems facing IndyCar are daunting. The artificially abbreviated schedule is totally ridiculous, the array of tracks that IndyCar runs on – or doesn’t run on as the case may be – is borderline nonsensical, the demonstrated inability to come up with a viable, competitive racing package that appeals to the drivers and fans, the fact that other than the Indianapolis 500 the sport is completely off of the mainstream media radar screens, etc., is enough to give anyone pause. The sport is on life support, and too many key people involved refuse to acknowledge the facts. It doesn’t take a seer to understand that if this trend is left unchecked, we will witness the complete dissolution of the sport. And I for one would hate to see that happen, because even though IndyCar’s problems are daunting, they aren’t insurmountable.
    Editor’s Note: The only constant of the past twenty years are the dire prognostications of doom, which so far have been 100% incorrect. Most of the crapola has been spouted by those who espouse the cart/owner model. Thankfully that old guard has been dying off. Once the last of the holdovers departs perhaps a truly unified sport can begin some progress. But as long as the most recognized stars continue acting like two year olds throwing a floor fit in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart there is no chance.

    The team owners in IndyCar are smart people, racers who have put their money on the line to see that this sport survives. But they know full well that mere survival isn’t going to cut it going forward. It is going to take visionary thought, real courage and direct and immediate action to save the sport. The IndyCar owners need to band together, take control of Indy car racing and do what’s best for the sport before it’s too late. It’s that simple.
    Editor’s Note: Actually it’s not, and history can easily prove that particular insanity.

  6. It’s amazing how badly you managed to miss the point of the piece; the “fans” don’t want the product as its currently constituted.
    Editor’s Note: My group of fans (those who actually attend and/or watch every single one) are fine with the product and are confident in relying on over 50 years of history that tells us the only constant is change. Most people are impatient with the length and depth of change and that’s fine. I am aware of the niche of fans that hate IndyCar as it is presently constituted but based on their nonstop yammering about it must be its most rabid fans.

    Your( and many others) opinion as to whether or not that was the greatest indy type race ever is irrelevant. Virtually no one was there, and though ratings may have been up its still in test pattern territory.
    Editor’s Note: Actually the ratings are well above average for sports programming on national sports cable television networks. Most programming on such networks is not rated at all. We remain aware the Fontana crowd was small; that is more a function of the date shift and time of day. I think the fan base regardless of their proclivities or prejudice agrees on that.

    The bigger picture is this: as it is currently practiced it’s hard to see how indycar survives ( other than, as it is now on the largess of the Hulman family) with its declining commercial and consumer appeal. Existence now is solely reliant on subsidies to fund teams, and the “old guard” dying off isn’t going to create a flood of new entrants. Because if it was going to they’d already be here, as Penske, Ganassi and maybe Rahal are the only teams left from the old CART days. The other salient point is that it’s perfectly clear, as you yourself pointed out, that IMS/Miles and crew have either no idea HOW to promote, or no DESIRE to promote anything other than the 500 and IMS itself.
    Editor’s Note: And that must change.

    So at this point why not let the owners run it; let IMS manage and promote the Speedway and the 500, and leave the rest to a group that might actually give a crap about it.
    Editor’s Note: It is hard to trust a group that killed itself twice. Bigger voice? Sure. Ownership? NFW.

  7. UOPSHADOW wrote that “what went on at California was simply inexcusable”


    “configuring the current spec-racer Indy cars for high downforce on superspeedways so that they run around in wheel-to-wheel packs for three hours is simply unfathomable and unconscionable”


    “the “fans” don’t want the product as its currently constituted”


    “Your( and many others) opinion as to whether or not that was the greatest indy type race ever is irrelevant.”

    Well, yes it was the best race … ever.

    And if you think that’s not what’s good for IndyCar and what the fans want, then I knew where you can watch a coal train run and root for the 52nd car in the train to pass the other cars. That’s a lot like watching a road course or street course race — nothing happens.

    Toronto = Zero on-track, up-to-full-speed passes shown on NBCSN in the final 24 laps.
    Fontana = 80 lead changes.

    Nuf said.

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