Many racing fans have worked themselves up into wet dream level anticipation over the whiff of a rumor based on an Alex Zanardi comment that he would like to try racing in the Indianapolis 500. Now all of a sudden the racing-centric Internet typists assume the 100th running would be the perfect debut with no doubts about either quality teams and equipment or sponsorship. It is over the top.
This author has been accused in the past (mostly by people without a high degree of reading comprehension or the ability to pick up on subtle nuance, much less lighthearted humor) of certain insensitivity with regard to Mr. Zanardi. The hypersensitivity of critics often clouds their judgement. In reality as a racing fan I enjoyed watching him race in his prime as immensely as anyone else. The accomplishments he has mastered since his accident is the stuff of inspirational legend. What is not to like or admire?
Wishful thinking regarding a 500 run, especially the 100th running, must be tempered by pragmatism. Zanardi never raced at Indianapolis. He was part of teams that actively boycotted the 500. He walked away from IndyCar twice for marginal attempts in Formula 1. His best known on-track move (other than that ill-fated right turn in Germany the weekend after 9/11) was a pass that would be considered illegal today. Most racing fans of any prejudice can get past the politics and overlook bad times. After all, it is 2015. Before he is anointed to IndyCar sainthood without having ever turned a hot lap at Indy I encourage more objective viewpoint.
In May of 2016 he will be pushing 50. His physical conditioning, especially in the upper body, is remarkable. But his body will be almost 50. And he has no legs. Or Indy 500 starts. Or much IndyCar driving since 2001. And no butt time in a DW12 with the fancy schmancy aerokits. Odds are stacked against him. Perhaps that level of challenge is what has his fans creaming their dungarees over the mere possibility of conquering it. It would really be difficult to see what is essentially a stunt going awry. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is often thought of as a living, breathing spirit that can just as easily chew up and spit out a driver as bestow good fortune regardless of pedigree. No one wishes the former on anyone but such an attempt would become a media freak show regardless of outcome.
Some have suggested a perfect pairing might be with Sam Schmidt. Perhaps, but that version begins to veer into ‘step right up’ sideshow territory even more. I am certain sponsorship would not be an issue. I look forward to the 100th running for its intrinsic historical value and not whimsical novelty. Sam Schmidt did run in the 500 multiple times and has become a successful IndyCar owner. Oh, and he works just as hard trying to wipe out paralysis. Like Zanardi his post-racing accomplishments are even more impressive than what he did on track. Schmidt inspires me. I love the fact he has used his passion for the sport to both participate and attempt to make it better.
I know Zanardi has long been crowned as one of the best ever (despite no laps at Indy). My biggest disappointments are: A) That he allowed his career to be guided by the idiotic arrogance of boycotters who mistakenly believed they were bigger than Indy and forced him and many of his contemporaries to miss the one event that gave them all legitimacy in the prime of his career, and B) That he did not attempt this stunt while ten years younger when he would have been about the same age as today’s consistent winners.
There are no losers in this fantasy and I encourage continuing enthusiasm. It is nice to see that in IndyCar for a change. Given the ‘resignation’ of Derrick Walker (I thought he was supposed to be an owners guy) it is easy to see the clown act that has passed for management of the sport has remained unchanged essentially since the late 1970s plane crash no matter which warm bodies occupy the big desks. The fact that Mark Miles is so well insulated will stick in the craw of critics for a long time. Never is there a dull moment.