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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

No Rules,
Just Right

8/31/04

Athens, NY—The wide avenues of the World’s Capital are being flooded by a sea of un-punishable anarchists while their insurgent comrades do daily battle with the very troops who freed them to roam, armed to the teeth, through the streets of Iraqi cities. Nonetheless, there still exists one tiny bastion of tradition where rules are enforced with totalitarian precision.

Welcome to the Champ Car World Series!

Yes, that Champ Car World Series; the one whose new ownership is fighting an ongoing war to overcome the stigma of its predecessor’s needless bankruptcy with a positive and creative business model all the while dodging the daggers of a cadre of powerful backstabbing enemies who are hell-bent on destroying them.

Yes, that Champ Car World Series; the one that became so desperate to enhance the raciness of its product—particularly as it relates to overtaking for position—that it concocted a gimmick not sanctioned anywhere else in the entire world of motor sports which enables rationed momentary horsepower surges at the push of a steering wheel mounted button.

Yes, that Champ Car World Series; the one that dangles Championship Points like carrots in front of its drivers’ noses to encourage their performance of every conceivable act of legal racing aggression.

Isn’t it all the more odd, therefore, that CCWS stewards are prone to react in a manner that completely contradicts the relatively progressive racing-oriented spirit of the Champ Car Company’s management and other departments?

Furthermore, not only are these overseers quick to inflict corporal punishment for what we enthusiasts would generally consider to be—at worst—ill-conceived race day maneuvers, but they do so, remarkably, right in the faces of the series’ principal owners. To make matters even worse, the starter and other personnel working under the Chief Steward’s charge make at least as many mistakes as do the bad-boy drivers that they have been hired to monitor.

And absolutely nothing has been done by this crew to overcome or curtail “Lap 1/Turn 1 Crash Syndrome”, an old nemesis that has been allowed to plague open-wheel road racing for far too many years. Not only has L1/T1 proven to be the most annoying and potentially off-putting element of the CCWS, it also works against the effort to increase the number of viewers who might tune in for Champ Car’s meager TV effort.

“He [A.J. Allmendinger] wasn't being careless on Lap 42, he was going for FIRST PLACE in the hairpin, the essence of this exercise, and got penalized for something that was clearly one of those many racing incidents that happens every Sunday,” Robin Miller wrote in SPEED Montreal wrap-up commentary.

Miller’s is a perfectly logical explanation of the accidental wheel-banging contact that put race leader Sebastien Bourdais out with a broken suspension and, as a result of his subsequent penalty, cost the class-of-the-Montreal-field, Allmendinger, a certain podium finish—if not the outright race win—this past Sunday at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

With the exception of acting to insure the overall safety of an event, the stewards’ responsibility is to help facilitate drivers’ ability to display their skills to the ticket holders and TV audience; a job that should be especially straightforward given the talent found in a high echelon motor sport like Champ Car racing.

Short of advocating complete race day anarchy, the borrowed slogan of the Australian-motif Outback restaurant chain in today’s title works for the Champ Car World Series, as well. By the same token, having too many rules and the often silly and arbitrary penalties that they generate could boomerang on those who are working so hard to re-popularize our beloved speed sport.

Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.

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

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