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Open Wheel Racing Needs Indy,
And Other Truths You Don't Want To Hear

The events of this past May have brought out a myriad of truths that neither IRL nor CART fans want to hear or acknowledge. They are there for all to see, whether you want to stick your head in the sand or not. They culminate with the biggest truth of them all -- Open Wheel Racing needs the Indianapolis 500.

Truths IRL Fans Don't Want to Hear:

  • CART can survive without the Indy 500. They may not thrive, but they can survive. They will always have enough rich owners and sponsors willing to take part in the sort of venues that CART competes in. CART has proven that over the past few years and continue to do so with tracks willing to pay huge sanctioning fees for the right to host a CART event.
  • The best drivers and teams are in CART. This does not mean that the IRL doesn't have some very good drivers and teams. And this does not mean that CART does not have some dogs for drivers and teams. However, overall, the best drivers and teams are in CART. Remember, the World Hockey Association had Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player ever to play the game, and nobody ever tried to claim that the WHA was better than the NHL. (Plus, whenever a Winston Cup driver losses in the Busch Series, nobody tries to claim the Busch Series is NASCAR's top league.)
  • Money will always win, consistently. This is a truth known to racing since they first started competing in 1894. No amount of socialistic behavior will change that. Sure, upsets will happen, but take a look at who has been winning consistently in the IRL -- the better financed teams. And it's not just because money can buy the best equipment. It's also because money can buy the best engineers, best mechanics, and best drivers. Then, the success brings even more money. It's a tough cycle to crack, and one the IRL was foolish to think it could.
  • Spec cars are not the way to go. What is so fascinating are the IRL fans using this as their rallying cry. What made Indy great was anything but spec cars -- turbines, Smokey Yunick's "sidecars," the Novi's, roadsters vs. rear engine cars, and so on. The list is endless. In fact, many consider the low point in CART's history to be when Chevrolet dominated victory lane. It has always been my belief that the IRL has done everything opposite of CART, just because. Obviously, CART did not have all the answers, so doing the opposite will bring out some good things. But, spec cars is not one of them. This is Indy car racing, where innovation (granted, within reason) is just as important as the driving and racing.
  • The goal to get more sprint and midget drivers into Indy has been a failure. Now, before you can yell Tony Stewart, I will say that a great driver will shine anywhere, as Stewart has proven. Perhaps, he never would have had a chance to make Indy with CART. However, if you keep getting rid of the top group of drivers, you will eventually provide opportunities for tricycle champions. That's not what a major league sport is about. Racing will always have buy-a-ride drivers (as the IRL has proven once again), and they will take away deserving rides from others. However, based on their record, outside of Stewart and Billy Boat (who first did Indy Lights), the concept of sprint and midget drivers making it at Indy has been a dismal failure. Just giving someone an "opportunity" is not what major league sports is all about. You have to earn it by competing against the best, not kicking the best out.
  • Now for the one that sends the most hardcore IRL fans into a frenzy -- Indy needs CART, its drivers and teams. The extra buzz in the air this year due to Team Ganassi showing up, the extra press attention with the CART champion there, and the excitement in the race when Greg Ray and Juan Montoya were dicing all point to how important it is to have CART at Indy.

Truths CART Fans Don't Want to Hear:

  • Indy will survive without CART. Indy may not thrive, and even may fall behind the Daytona 500 in ratings, press coverage, and the American lexicon, but they will always pack the fans in, and drivers, teams, and sponsors will always want to win the 500. Besides, Tony George could probably keep the IRL going with just the interest on the money he makes from Indy and the Brickyard.
  • Some IRL teams and drivers are quite good. Despite Montoya's domination and Robby Gordon's near win the year before, IRL's top teams and drivers can be quite competitive (at least on ovals) as Team Menard and Greg Ray, and Foyt and Kenny Brack have shown. There will be a time in head to head competition that an IRL team and driver will win. All you have to say is "New York Jets."
  • Some of the IRL specs are good. True, in their haste to come up with rules that were not similar to CART, the IRL may have originally designed a car that was unsafe, sounded terrible, and quite frankly, looked a bit ugly. But there were some good ideas in there. Whether you prefer turbo or not is not the issue (and Formula 1 has shown that normally aspirated engines can be "cool"). The issue is cost containment, and some of the IRL regulations help that, such as freezing chassis (something CART has talked about for over a year), and requiring the same engine mount points to allow for easy swapping of engine manufacturers (don't you think Swift and the Forsythe Championship Racing and Dale Coyne Racing teams would have loved that). Remember, everybody ridiculed the American Basketball Association for the three point shot. Now, everybody considers it an essential part of the game.
  • CART needs to promote American drivers. This does sound hypocritical considering my above comments concerning the IRL and sprint/midget drivers, and I will always say the best drivers is better than any other combination. However, CART still needs to help promote and find rides to American drivers in order to capture the American sports fan. They just need to go about it smartly and fairly.
  • Now for the one that sends the most hardcore CART fans into a frenzy -- CART needs Indy, its press attention, and the ability to have the man on the street talk about their drivers. There is still nothing like Indy, and it is no coincidence that CART's ratings drop coincided with them no longer attending Indy.

And finally, the biggest truth that everybody is missing through the trees. It goes beyond Indy needing CART and CART needing Indy. It's real simple folks. Plain as day and night. Open Wheel Racing needs the Indianapolis 500. Not just CART. Not just the IRL. Not Andrew Craig. Not Tony George. Open Wheel Racing, its fans, drivers, owners, and sponsors, needs Indy.

It's an old saying to the point it is a trite cliché, but it is oh so true. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that's why Open Wheel Racing needs Indy. As a whole. An entity. I still stand by my previous essay that the IRL has been based on more lies than not, but when you really look at this whole mess, there are a lot of truths neither side wants to hear.

Copyright © 2000 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
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