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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Haste Makes Waste

What a great idea CART’s television partner SPEED came up with. Instead of challenging hypertryptophanized Thanksgiving Day birdwatchers to stay awake through Alain de Cadenet, Dutch Mandell and Shade Tree Mechanic hypnosis tapes, they opted, instead, to yank still-hot Champ Car race biscuits out of the oven and to throw them right on the feasting table next to the turkey.

In a format dubbed CART-A-THON, SPEED showed most of the 2002 season’s races in their entirety—kicked up with an encouraging number of commercials.

The good news is that this tasty treat not only made a wonderful alternative to traditional holiday fare and even-lamer regular daytime TV programs, but it also provided fans of our beloved speed sport with the opportunity to view races they may have missed the first time around. This renegade scribe finally got to see one of the better races of the year—Motegi—in which there was actually some passing, several lead changes and quite a bit of 200+ mph wheel-to-wheel high jinx.

There was also some bad news. Highly concentrated CART programming emphasized CART’s on-track shortcomings.

Number one on the list of potentially dangerous problems—and this one threatens to remain with Champ Car racing despite a major specs/rules overhaul next season—might be classified as “carelessness” in the pits. Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not implying that CART or its teams are guilty of slipshod safety practices or inadequate pit stop safety rules. Nor do I believe that the teams’ extremely professional pit crews are to blame.

Nonetheless, there is a potential safety nightmare waiting to happen. It is rooted in the dearth of overtaking in CART that necessitates overly rushed pit stops. This unfortunate circumstance was spawned by the parity of teams and drivers, especially since all of the under-funded teams have now fallen by the wayside, and it is exacerbated by the heightened competitiveness that a soft racing economy dictates.

It was plain for Thanksgiving Day viewers to see, as the CART TV marathon unfolded, that most of the season’s position-betterment recorded for posterity on SPEED’s ’02 Champ Car tapes was the result of pit stop efficiency on the part of any particular pit crew at any particular moment—not driver ability.

For those who are entertained by the morbid aspects of motorsports, superhuman pit stops gone-wrong provided far too many of CART-A-THON’s pulse elevating highlights. Lowlights is perhaps a more appropriate term, however, for a plethora of unfastened wheel nuts, pit fires, incomplete fuel fills, nudged crewmembers and equipment runovers.

Any of these glitches could easily have resulted in a tragedy far more serious than the mere loss of position, being black-flagged or taking a DNF.

Despite projected ’03 rules changes which will herald the return of more traditional pit strategies and will likely mark the end of such risky mandates as a four-tire change with every pit stop, CART’s overly rushed pit stop dilemma may not be solved when it becomes, in effect, a spec series. Once teams determine that the only true competitive on-track racing edge is a minute difference between their Champ Car pilot’s skills and those of others, a vaunted drivers’ series may very quickly revert back to what it has become in 2002—a pit crews’ series.

Therefore, along with meeting the economic challenges that face the Champ Car Company, the encouragement of traditional on-track passing must also be given very high priority. In addition to making next year’s CART-A-THON a lot more fun to watch, increased on-track overtaking for position would also help prevent future pit crew injuries. And, with cost cutting measures so much in the forefront these days, one way for teams to save money on spare parts is by not botching overly rushed pit stops.

Speed is Life.

Haste makes waste.

There’s a tightrope stretched between those two truths.

Copyright © 2002 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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