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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

“As a purist…”
5/26/04

Athens, NY—Tommy Kendall’s repeated use of the title-referenced phrase during Sunday’s TV coverage of the race in Monterrey, Mexico was obviously meant, by the outspoken commentator, to be more than just a throwaway intro line for his analyses.

TK’s repeated quasi-apologetic reference to the ever-changing-tail-wags-dog nuances of the Champ Car World Series rulebook makes an excellent mantra for like-minded denizens of our beloved speed sport to chant on race days. Especially for those of us who remember how intriguing things were in “the old days” when straightforward racing and race strategy consistently provided exciting and often surprising results.

As well, it bears re-reminding folks that during the bygone era there were not only much larger fields but also disparate chassis/engine/tire packages and drivers whose physical conditioning varied greatly from one to the next. Defending series champion Paul Tracy and his old teammate former PPG Cup winner Al Unser Jr. were, in those halcyon days, the very antithesis of what every current member of the Champ Car driver squad eats, drinks, and trains like.

So why is it that our virtual spec series needs so many qualifying and racing gimmicks to create the mere modicum of excitement that has, thus far, been the gimmicks’ byproduct?

"We can no longer in the motor racing world just have races," OWRS partner Kevin Kalkhoven was recently quoted by ESPN’s John Oreovicz. "Unless we've got promoters and cities and government organizations prepared to back these events and turn them into what we have here in Monterrey [then] just having a race for the sake of having a race doesn't interest me and it doesn't do anything for anybody."

The other side of that coin however, Mr. K, is that unless you’ve got fans that are eager to attend interesting and exciting events, you probably will not have promoters, governments, etc. that will be prepared to back them. Furthermore, literally staging events “for the sake of having a race” is not going to keep your core fans’ interest for very long.

Was Bruno Junqueira over the top with his remarks about the convoluted one-off rules for Friday qualifying at Monterrey?

"They didn't need to change anything,” Bruno said. “But they have no respect for the fans. The worst thing is that when Champ Car said what they wanted to do a lot of teams and a lot of drivers said they didn't like it. But they didn't listen to us. They just told us to try it and say good things to the press."

Incidentally, Junky’s comments also included a Tracy-esque Bozo the Clown analogy to the OWRS’ rules enforcers.

"We came into Monterrey with a special qualifying procedure tailored to provide on-track excitement for the fans," countered John Lopes, Champ Car's Vice-President of Race Operations. "After review and consultation with the teams, we felt our Friday qualifying did not achieve the desired result. Therefore, we reverted to the original qualifying procedure, which all the fans understand…”

I don’t recall PT being called a whiner during his combative moments with the Chief Steward a few years ago, and shortly thereafter he replaced the all-time champion whiner of Champ Car racing as CART’s Most Popular Driver after being jobbed out of an Indy 500 win by even clownier f-inheritor officials.

So perhaps Junky’s day as a fan fave will also come as a result of his upcoming Indy participation. But in any case, it just wouldn’t have been the Bruno Junqueira we’ve all come to know had his remarks to the press in Mexico been prefaced by one of Tommy Kendall’s diplomatic “as a purist” intros.

Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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