IndyCar’s Great Schism: A Brief Comparative History of the Split, Part 2

In early 1996 the IRL held its first race in Orlando, Florida, proving naysayers who’d predicted the series would never turn a lap wrong. Making the most of his Papal power with an ultimatum of his own, George instituted the controversial 25/8 rule that year for Indy 500 qualifications, reserving 25 of the traditional 33 starting spots for IRL teams, in practice shutting out (all but a few) CART teams. As Hinton wrote, Tony George “didn’t want partners” and he didn’t want to deal  with the corrupt CART Cardinals, either. They protested George’s Papal Bull by not participating in the Indy 500, instead doing the unthinkable and holding a competing race in Michigan called the “U.S. 500.” Clearly IndyCar’s Great Schism wasn’t going away anytime soon.

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Photo from ap.org

The upstart U.S. 500 – the Avignon of motorsports – featured plenty of controversy of its own. A first lap, front row pileup led to a hasty decision to allow the affected drivers to restart the halted race in backup cars from their previous positions – with no penalty. Pole sitter Jimmy Vasser, who’d been involved in the opening lap melee, went on to win the race. The conflicting open wheel events that Memorial Day Weekend in 1996 set the tone for the entire split, as to many observers both sides appeared misguided, mad and wrong. In retrospect, that Sunday clearly was the nadir of the sport.

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Photo from caranddriver.com

As in Church history some principles in the open wheel war changed their minds and dramatically switched sides. By 2002, former CART Cardinal Roger Penske had defected to the IRL and was back at the Indy 500. CART loyalist Chip Ganassi had won the 500 with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000 and became a full time member of George’s series in 2003. The hand writing was on the wall in Gasoline Alley. Trouble is, the owners of CART weren’t in Indy to read it. Left with the carcass of CART were the likes of Jimmy Vasser, Australian Kevin Kalkhoven and the unlikable air conditioning magnate Jerry Forsythe, who together with others would struggle in vain for the next four years to keep CART alive, merely prolonging the ordeal.

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Photo from autosport.com

Both the IRL and IndyCar’s schism lasted thirteen years in total, obviously an ominous period of time. This, along with thirty years of the owners’ Babylonian Captivity, had taken a toll. In 2008, after lengthy negotiations and previous failed attempts George finally reached a deal to purchase and absorb what was left of the former CART series, creating a unified series called IndyCar. Once the Council of Indianapolis was underway it wouldn’t be long before a new Pope Martin would be elevated and the Schism would finally be brought to an acceptable and merciful end. While the corrosive split now appeared in the rear view mirror, as with the Church’s Great Schism much of IndyCar’s magic, appeal and luster had been squandered, lost – possibly forever.

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Photo from caranddriver.com

As Hinton noted, in one sense George had won the open wheel war and emerged in command, just as he’d envisioned. In another sense he’d lost, as IndyCar had become what CART had been and he’d hated, swerving away from its oval racing American roots. To make matters worse, the series had been lapped by NASCAR during the war. George himself – now the undisputed Pope – lasted barely a year in the position, when his own sisters ousted him for his sins. This abruptly ended his free-spending and grandiose Pontificate and opened the door for the transitional Randy Bernard, the Pope Martin of IndyCar.

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Photos from autosport.com and quizlet.com

Attendance, viewership, media coverage and public perception all suffered mightily during the split, along with the prestige of IndyCar and most troubling of all its Holiest of Holies, the Indianapolis 500. Divided down the middle, the two open wheel series not only bitterly opposed one another as did their adherents, but also lessened the overall standing of the entire institution in the public’s eyes, precisely as the Great Schism had done to the Church six hundred years earlier.

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Chart from americanpopularculture.com

The Indy 500 was negatively affected over the years as it and its series faced stiff competition from CART then from Champ Car and finally, from apathy. Sadly during the protracted conflict both sides had faded in NASCAR’s dust. The media coverage of the series quickly had become divided and reduced during the schism, adding to the sickening spiral of decline in IndyCar. After bankruptcy, a name change and ultimately imminent failure, remaining CART true believers finally saw the error of their ways and sold out. The few dead-enders who hadn’t already come back to the IRL fold like Vasser and Kalkhoven either did so or simply refused and instead closed up shop, such as the peevish Forsythe.

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On the bright side, the respective Great Schisms taught invaluable lessons, even if they weren’t immediately or in some cases ever put to use. One could argue that positive motivations drove all of the competing sides during both splits, with generally good people fighting for what they believed in and loved, although egos and base emotions certainly played their roles in these surprisingly similar sagas.  One could also argue that human nature took over – as it always does – and egos and arrogance crept in where good intentions retreated or never existed. This sometimes happens even with good, high-minded people supporting diametrically opposed yet compelling causes.

Happily, these devastating divides finally ended after decades of acrimony and destruction and the respective institutions somehow survived and have moved forward. Like Church members in the fifteenth century when the great Schism was still recent, IndyCar fans today hopefully await the arrival of badly needed reforms. Sadly, such reformation wouldn’t come to the Church for over a century after the Schism’s end. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a fifteenth that long for IndyCar to see the light and complete its penance, so that a true American open wheel Renaissance may begin.

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IndyCar’s Great Schism: A Brief Comparative History of the Split, Part 1

In the vast annals of history there have been many highs and lows, glorious as well as regrettable chapters throughout the millennia. Many embarrassing episodes struck civilization, as is to be expected of even long standing institutions of mere mortal men. The chronicles of the Catholic Church make up a significant part of the history of western civilization, stretching back thousands of years. While IndyCar’s history doesn’t encompass a fifteenth of that of the Church nor is it nearly as important in the grand order of things, it does share a similarly destructive controversy with the Church that rocked both institutions to their very foundations – the Great Schism.

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Like the Catholic Church’s Great Schism, IndyCar’s split is now a largely forgotten footnote that represents an embarrassing era in history. These divides weakened and changed both the Church and IndyCar irreversibly.  Like the crisis in the church, IndyCar’s split was in part a power struggle and a battle for control, yet these conflicts went beyond that. As with the Papacy in the Middle Ages, suddenly there were two competing camps vying for control of IndyCar racing which resulted in a bitter and protracted fight, confusion amongst followers, and a period of dangerous decline. Unfortunately all of this was to the vast benefit of critics, unbelievers and rivals.

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During the fourteenth century, the Papacy had grown weak, falling under the control of French Kings and based in Avignon, France rather than Rome. The period was known as the Babylonian Captivity in the Catholic Church, and ended poorly with Pope Gregory XI’s momentous return to Rome in 1377, only to die the next year. Amidst high hopes the Cardinals elected a new Italian Pope, but their relations with the new Urban VI rapidly deteriorated for a variety of petty political reasons. The Cardinals moved against Urban deposing him and swiftly electing a second, more compliant Pope in 1378. Clement VII belonged to or was connected with the most powerful families of Europe and would remain completely loyal to the French monarchy while residing in Avignon, France.

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Images from greatschism.org

The Great Schism cleaved the Church, which now stood divided with two heads. England and France, already locked in the Hundred Years’ War, chose opposite sides and France’s Clement became known as the anti-Pope. The embarrassing split lasted for decades until the abdication of the then three Popes and the election of Pope Martin V in 1417. Pope Martin – who did little in the way of reform – ironically assumed the Pontificate exactly one hundred years before Luther’s Protestant Reformation would bring about truly needed reforms.

Almost exactly six centuries later, IndyCar team owners seized control of the sport that long time Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman had headed until his death in 1977. Hulman had been the Pope of IndyCar racing, having resurrected the Speedway after World War II and making Indianapolis into the Rome of motor racing. Like several medieval papacies, the Speedway and IndyCar had become a family affair run for many decades by a single powerful Hulman (and later Hulman-George) clan. Upon Hulman’s demise, IndyCar drifted rudderlessly at sea as people awaited the choice of the next Pontiff.

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Image from bala-lake-railway.co.uk

Announcing the formation of Championship Auto Racing Teams or CART in 1978, owners led by Dan Gurney, Pat Patrick and Roger Penske – the French Cardinals of IndyCar – boldly determined to chart IndyCar’s new course themselves. According to Ed Hinton at espn.com on deadline day for entry in the 1979 Indy 500, CART lawyers delivered paperwork for over forty entrants along with a list of demands that the Speedway must meet if they were to participate, meaning if there were to be a race at all.

The ultimatum had been given. The Speedway rejected the demands and told CART owners they were unwelcome at the 500 that year. CART sued IMS and won the right to race at Indy anyway, thereafter filling the vacuum left by Hulman’s death and controlling IndyCar in much the same way the French monarchy controlled the Church in the late Middle Ages.

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Photo from spokeo.com

Profits-focused, CART set about radically changing IndyCar, emulating Formula 1 with more road and street circuits and foreign born ride-buying drivers.  Like the Papacy during the Babylonian Captivity – with outside influences playing an increasingly large role in important official matters and governance of the series by committee – IndyCar eventually became diluted, showy and misguided under CART’s dubious stewardship.

Again according to Hinton, once Hulman’s grandson Tony George assumed control of the Speedway at age thirty in accordance with family tradition, the legitimate competing Pope set about regaining control of IndyCar racing for his family. Butting heads with the CART owners, who routinely rejected his ideas like a single series boss and who tended to view him as a “punk” and mere “track promoter,” George resigned from CART’s board and in 1994 announced the formation of the Indy Racing League.

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George’s IRL was to be an all oval series that showcased American talent like Indiana born Tony Stewart and built around the St. Peter’s Basilica of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With two opposite worldviews in place – one based on profit and emulating F-1, the other based on tradition and oval racing – IndyCar’s Great Schism became a full blown battle for American open wheel supremacy. The conflict had been brewing since the owner’s Babylonian Captivity beginning in the late 1970s, and it now became an all out war for the soul of the sport.

Instant Reaction – Death Sometimes Wins the Race

Tragedy struck yet another racetrack Saturday night. Sprint car driver Scott Semmelmann was killed in an accident during practice at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin. Semmelmann’s car made contact with another car and then flipped repeatedly, smashing into the wall. He was 47 years old according to USA Today and curiously racing for the first time in 2014. This is just the latest in a long list of driver fatalities, reminding us that death defying drivers don’t always succeed, and death sometimes wins the race.

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Racing’s always been an inherently dangerous pursuit, particularly in its earliest years. Six IndyCar drivers were killed in 1916 alone when safety technology was primitive or non-existent. Bill Vukovich, Jerry Unser, Tony Betttenhausen, Dave MacDonald, Swede Savage, Scott Brayton, Paul Dana, Greg Moore and Dan Wheldon are just some of the better known racing fatalities on the list of over ninety driver deaths in IndyCar alone.

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NASCAR’s shorter history nevertheless yields plenty of tragedy, as well. Tony Stewart, still facing a possible grand jury indictment for the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. in August is the latest celebrity racer to encounter a brush with tragedy, although the list is a long one. Dale Earnhart is perhaps the most famous stock car driver to die on track, one of nearly seventy driver fatalities in NASCAR. Add in sprint car and other racing disasters and the late list swells to the hundreds. That’s not counting fan deaths at events, either. Interestingly, a surprising number of fatalities occurred during practice rather than a race.

Every driver who straps into a racecar is well aware of the risks he’s taking. Let’s face it, the obvious danger of racing is a powerfully appealing pull to drivers and fans alike. In that sense, racing and danger go together like lightening and clouds. It’s a loathsome but essential aspect of a package deal. Like most things in life without the risk, there is no thrill, no reward. The lengths technology and safety have advanced in racing’s first century are amazing, but frequent fatalities remind us that racing, like life, can never be made completely safe or risk free.

IndyCar News Week in Review

  • The latest bad idea acknowledged as under consideration by series honcho Derrick Walker is canopies. That’s right, canopies on gorgeous open wheel, open cockpit cars that have had the same general look since they were invented over a century ago (DW-12 ass pods notwithstanding). Attention IndyCar brass: rich traditions and history are not mere nothings to be sloughed off by the people who happen to be in charge of IndyCar’s sacred stewardship at the moment.

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  • Rather than using unsightly canopies, we suggest airbags as alternatives. Advanced, ultra-safe airbags similar to but stronger than those in passenger cars could solve the perceived problem, which is protecting drivers’ heads during catastrophic collisions. They would accomplish the goal without altering the characteristic open-topped aesthetic appeal of IndyCars. In keeping with another hallowed and ancient IndyCar tradition, the development of such revolutionary airbag technology has all sorts of safety applications for the citizenry, from motorbikes to passenger vehicles to the military. This would enhance IndyCar’s long legacy of safety and technology innovations – including rear view mirrors and safer barriers – while not radically altering tradition, the unique look or inherent riskiness of the sport.

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Photo from autoevolution.com

  • Honda’s misery deepens as they continue to lose teams as well as championships. Most recently the newly fused Carpenter-Fisher-Hartman Team announced they’d be utilizing Chevrolet power in 2015. This wasn’t surprising considering ECR’s success this year using Chevy to the tune of three wins, a podium and pole position at Indianapolis. On the other side of the steering wheel SFHR and Josef Newgarden didn’t wow the crowds with Honda in 2014 and willingly accepted the change for next year. Big things are expected of the newly merged team, due in part to the bow tie power plants. Of course the aero-kits of both Honda and Chevy and their overall effects upon the racing in 2015 remain to be seen and are a true wildcard. They’re supposed to make the cars faster.

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Photo from espn.go.com

  • As for silly season news, there really is none. Interestingly, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud who’s been driving for Sam Schmidt the last few years is the hot free agent this off season. Recent rumors linked him to Penske, whereas earlier rumors had him at Andretti. No signing has been announced as of yet, so it’s all been pure speculation. IRR only knows this – we’d hire him.

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Photo from pinterest.com

  • The final bit o’ IndyCar news this week concerns the schedule. The long rumored race in Brazil – at yet another new venue in the capital Brasilia apparently made with leftovers from the World Cup building frenzy – will in fact take place early March, 2015.  Unfortunately it’s an additional street course. This flies in the face of IRR’s sound advice to the series to instead race in Colombia, which is not only a nicer and safer destination for tourists but also the home nation of no fewer than four series participants, three of whom swept one of the podia in Houston this year. But no, IndyCar seems determined to go about things in the same old way while expecting different results – and that’s just crazy.

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Photo from blogs.wsj.com

  • In spite of IndyCar’s obtuseness and flat out refusal to accept our wise counsel, we’ll conclude by  offering a few other helpful bits of advice. First, include more oval tracks on the schedule, as they are the sport’s heritage and provide by far the best racing. Second, start listening to your fans and supporters while you still have some left. And third, can the campy canopy idea.

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Photo from leicestermercury.co.uk

  • On a related note, there was some international news this week as Scotland voted whether to secede from the United Kingdom and discard a mutually beneficial and peaceful union of three hundred and seven years. Fortunately for most concerned including the United States, the large majority of Scots kept their senses and voted no. The IndyCar connection? It’s three time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, tiny Scotland’s only recent series participant. The former driver’s stance on the historic decision of his countrymen when asked directly by an IRR reporter? A resounding no comment.

Danica: More Diva Than Driver, Part 2

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Photo from abcnews.go.com

Danica endured a disappointing 2010 IndyCar season though she remained well lighted under the media klieg lights. The pressure mounted on her to prove that the historic 2008 win at Motegi wasn’t merely a fueling fluke, an accidental outcome as it started to appear. She managed only eight top ten finishes in seventeen races that year, though she did score a couple of podiums at Texas and Homestead along the way. There was nary a win in sight and it’d been nearly three years since her triumph in Japan.

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Photo from washingtonpost.com

The same fans, press and admirers who had helped propel her to such dizzying heights of driver-diva fame now demanded more from her, or else the media machine threatened to move on from “Danica-mania” to the next fabricated folksy focal-point of their choosing, say Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. Undoubtedly, her star had dimmed over the last couple years as the up and down cycles of big league racing took their toll. That glorious Danica glow already had begun to fade amongst the fans, if not yet amongst her dedicated followers in the press corps.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

By 2011 it was apparent that Danica would be leaving IndyCar and her on track results showed it. Emotionally she’d already moved on that final year in IndyCar, merely going through the motions and acting interested, all the while secretly looking forward to trading up for obscene riches. In one of her worst years in racing she managed only seven top ten finishes in seventeen starts, not counting the Las Vegas finale, which was canceled after Wheldon was tragically killed. Her best finish was fifth at the Milwaukee Mile, but it was her only top five finish all year with a couple of paltry sixth place results at New Hampshire and Baltimore for good measure. She led ten laps at Indy but finished a disappointing tenth in her final appearance to date in the Greatest Spectacle in racing.

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Then in 2012 with the usual amount of hoopla and media fanfare she married into NASCAR and its multi-millions, leaving IndyCar jilted, attention-starved and somewhat stunned at its losses. As Elvis once asked, “Are you lonesome tonight?” The divorce complete, her relationship with suddenly shaky IndyCar was behind her and the desirous diva-driver didn’t look back. Whether or not she actually could drive a hulking stocky behemoth around a racetrack was another matter altogether, as her waifish size and weight were no longer advantageous in her new series.

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Photo from news.softpedia.com

If DP’s record of one win in a hundred sixteen IndyCar starts was poor, then her record in NASCAR has been even worse. She’s currently oh for seventy seven and counting, with a best finish of sixth quite recently in Atlanta. She has three top ten finishes so far this year along with two ninth place finishes last year. That’s it in two-plus lengthy – by which we mean seemingly never ending – NASCAR seasons.

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Photo from examiner.com

The media hype surrounding the driver-diva remains disproportionate to her performance to this very day, and it’s been that way since she made her debut a decade ago. It’d be another matter if she were a consistent or even sporadic winner, but such effusive media coverage starts to become insulting after so many years without results. Just ask her dumped ex-IndyCar colleagues.

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Photo from examiner.com

No other racer with one win in nearly two hundred starts gets a fraction of the attention she does. Clearly, Danica’s far more of a diva than she is a driver. The record – both photographic and otherwise – proves it. The only question is, will the media finally wake up and roll over for a clear eyed, sober morning view of their bodacious bedfellow to acknowledge the obvious fact? We predict no, and that she eventually moves on from NASCAR to fall for her next passionate love interest (media, anyone?), when yet again her utter lack of results will be completely ignored.

Danica: More Diva Than Driver, Part 1

The sometimes salacious, truly tiresome Danica Patrick saga is now over a decade old, lasting from its inception in 2005 to at least the present day. While parts of it haven’t been pretty, other parts certainly were. Danica may not be much of a race car driver, but she’s commendable for making the most of her career through skillful use of her um, assets.

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It’s not that she’s just another pretty face, though. Born in 1982 in Roscoe, Illinois Danica’s raced nearly her entire life. The diminutive thirty two year old has been competing at the big league level for ten years now – all one hundred pounds of her. Between IndyCar and NASCAR, she has nearly two hundred major league racing starts under her belt and exactly one win. The one victory occurred over six years ago in a little noticed late night IndyCar race in a land far, far away. That’s a .52 % career winning percentage in case you’re counting, which obviously is not a very attractive little number.

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Photo from autosport.com

Danica burst onto the IndyCar scene in 2005, soaking up the adoring press she generated and turning heads like a wet t-shirt contestant at a tent revival. Her national fame swelled to C-cup proportions at Indianapolis where she made history in leading laps as a rookie. An attractive young female racer who continually gained throngs of new fans and admirers, she also received the ire of competitors who were clearly jealous of the unparalleled media coverage the rookie garnered. Many forget she also led laps at Japan and Chicagoland that year and finished fourth at both Japan and Indianapolis. In a promising inaugural campaign Danica achieved six top ten finishes in sixteen starts, earning Rookie of the Year honors for both the Indy 500 and the season.

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The speedy siren also landed the Sports Illustrated cover after Indianapolis, further irking the more established and proven drivers in the field. In a televised interview after winning the Indianapolis 500, the late Dan Wheldon absolutely went off on Patrick. Asked about her extensive media exposure and whether it overshadowed his 500 victory, Wheldon unconvincingly told ESPN “I don’t care. Who gives a shit, really? I mean, so it’s SI – right there,  I mean if you were owner of SI, there are thirty three people in the Indianapolis 500, one of ’ems hot and female why wouldn’t you put ’em on the front? You’d be crazy not to, right?” The English racer then added tersely, “I have the self-satisfaction of just winning the biggest race in the world. Fine by me. . . . In ten years down the road, no one’s gonna remember the media attention the fourth place person got.”

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Danica experienced a bit of a sophomore slump on track the next year – her last with the struggling Rahal Letterman Racing – failing to lead a lap all year but finishing fourth at both Nashville and Milwaukee. The fawning national media treated her as though she were a female AJ Foyt setting the world afire. Danica had eight top ten finishes in only fourteen races that season but didn’t come close to winning. In fresh surroundings she bounced back in 2007 leading four races and landing on the podium three times, finishing second at Detroit and third at both Texas and Nashville. She finished in the top ten an impressive eleven times in seventeen starts and carried momentum into the 2008 season, her fourth in IndyCar and second with her new team Andretti Autosport.

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In her fiftieth IndyCar start Danica finally broke through with a victory. The general feeling among many in and around the series was one of relief rather than exhilaration once the facts had finally caught up with the phenomenon. She won the third race of 2008, taking the lead with three laps to go as most of those ahead of her pitted in an otherwise forgettable fuel mileage contest on a mountainside in Motegi, Japan. The few Americans who saw the race thirteen time zones away watched it very late at night and went to bed shocked at the result. She led only the final three laps but prevailed to become the first woman in history to win a major league race on a closed race course. The press attention Danica’s win birthed was unprecedented in its scope for IndyCar, lasting for months and years, easily overshadowing the recent announcement of the end of IndyCar’s version of the Great Schism.

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It seemed all the press’s previous glowing coverage of her was now somehow justified as they congratulated themselves, basking in their role of diva-driver queen-makers. She’d already posed in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and was arguably the most recognized (or is it over-exposed?) driver in the world, a true celebrity phenomenon by this point in her career. Starring appearances in extremely pricey and widely discussed Super Bowl ads weren’t far off. The win in Japan proved to be the high water mark of her racing career so far however, as she went on that year to lead only one more lap with high finishes of fifth at Nashville and Sonoma, and a total of nine top ten showings in eighteen starts. Her record didn’t get much better over the next  six years, despite what you may have read.

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Photo from usatoday.com

In 2009 she did respectably well, finishing third at Indy and fourth at Long Beach and turning in five top fives and ten top tens in seventeen races. While she led laps at Texas and Kentucky and showed some consistency, she really wasn’t a threat to win all year. The next year she achieved second place finishes at Texas and Homestead, but managed only eight top ten finishes in seventeen starts including fifth place in Japan.

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By then the rumors of her leaving for NASCAR raged in the press, again irritating many in the Indycar paddock. Apparently some in the series thought they couldn’t live with her and couldn’t live without her. Having learned their lesson, this time around her fellow drivers muted their displeasure with Danica and her departure, generally voicing it off the record rather than publicly through the press as before. Few in the media ever noted her unremarkable record during a seven year IndyCar career and instead stayed on the Danica bandwagon as it swerved toward NASCAR.

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Eleven Reasons IndyCar is Superior to N@$C@R

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We at IRR despise N@$C@R while at the same time adoring everything IndyCar. Well, almost everything – don’t get us started on certain IndyStar “reporters.” Or this year’s champ. Or the disturbing disappearance of terrific oval tracks from the schedule.

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Despite its many flaws, IndyCar is a vastly superior form of motorsport with history, danger, innovation and raw speed on its side. N@$C@R bleeping sucks in comparison, and here’s why.

1. IndyCar doesn’t need 11 months and 40 some odd races to put on the fastest, best, most intense racing on earth.

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2. Much cooler names like Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Kanaan than Johnson, Busch and Keselowski.

3. Faster, sleeker, sexier, and far better looking race cars.

4. Faster, sleeker, sexier, and far better looking WAGS.

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Photo from examiner.com

5. Gene Simmons.

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Photo from jewishjournal.com

6. IndyCar’s had many more bosses – three in the last five years – than N@$C@R’s mere one.

7. MUCH faster races than the interminable, snooze inducing N@$C@R marathons.

8. Less Busch brothers.

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Photo from nascar.com

9. A more selective group of race fans.

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Photos from fanhotspotoutdoors.com and fandeadspin.com

10. IndyCar’s moved on from Danica, who’s all drawers and no drive.

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Photo from si.com

11. Jan Beekhuis!

Paging Dr. Miles: IndyCar’s Health Status, Stat

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Sorry about the long wait and hope you found the waiting room and reams of bureaucratic paperwork not too disagreeable. Now that you’ve showed up and filled out the requisite forms, your doctor appointment will be in two months. We’re kidding, it’s just that IndyCar and healthcare both get our hearts to racing and we dislike seeing either in decline. The three metrics of IndyCar’s health we’ll examine under the microscope today are attendance, viewership and sponsorship. So remove your shirt and breathe deeply.

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To our semi-trained eyes, attendance was generally down this year at many IndyCar events with some hopeful exceptions like Indianapolis. It’s a difficult subject to find much information on believe you me, as few tracks give much of an indication attendance-wise. So we’re left with aerials on tv, media speculation and bloggers’ grousing. Yippie!

Attendance it seems is more closely guarded than the most sensitive state secrets in this Snowden era of laxity and leaking. A lot of open aluminum showed up on broadcasts however, and attendance is down all across motorsports. Interestingly major league baseball and even both kinds of football have seen fewer fanatics at the gates this year.

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Viewership on television for 2014 was reportedly up over 30% on NBCSN & double digits for ABC races this year over last year. Of course those figures can be misleading because last year’s numbers were fairly horrible. On a related note, we’re told this is the season of recovery for the U.S. economy – for the sixth year in a row now. Yeah, right. Still it’s a tentatively positive sign so we’ll take it and hope that it bodes well for the future of IndyCar.

As fans, let’s all make a pledge to go to at least one IndyCar race next year, shall we? Provided of course any of us can still afford it by then. For any of you forward looking individuals considering scouting some European locations, we make an excellent tour guide service during the off season.

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Sponsorship ideally includes profitability but it’s much more than that, entailing marketing, exposure, cross-promotions and the like. Essentially it’s all about money. A classic scene from Casino comes to mind, where Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone discuss “sponsorship” just prior to an intensely intimate moment on the couch. You know, right before everything in Vegas turns tits up.

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Photo from imdb.com

A focus of sponsorship should be the long term health of the client, in this case our beloved artistry on wheels. IndyCar’s sponsorship overall still seems middling, even though they’ve brought in a platoon of new folks for the express purpose of improving and a big name title sponsor like Verizon. It just feels a little trailer-ish, you know?

2014 may be paying off for the series itself, but it’s not so rosy everywhere in IndyCarLand. While IMS and IndyCar reported profits for this year and a few races had title sponsors, many teams continue to seek adequate funding. The teams are without question the lifeblood of the sport. We’ve pointed out the loss of some pretty big sponsors by certain teams recently like Red Bull and National Guard, as well as the addition of some new ones including Novonordisk and UFD.

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Sports Business Daily quoted Mark Miles as saying IMS and IndyCar “had a very good year” in 2014 for the first time in a while. Perhaps they sold a lot of baking soda at Clabber Girl, because the above metrics weren’t that much better than last year’s, truth be told. Miles credited consolidation, the abbreviated schedule and new strategies for the success. Well and good for IMS and the series, but what about the effects on individual teams? After all, without strong thriving teams and the 500 IMS is simply a glorified motorbike track that like so many other venues hosts one so-so N@$C@R race a year.

Giving that Extra Effort to Win?

An article on legendary four time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt in Motorsport Magazine got us to thinking, which is a nice surprise from an informative piece. It chronicled Foyt’s 1964 season in which he won the championship and his second Indianapolis 500. It was what Foyt said recently while reflecting on his career that was striking, though.

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Photo from toledoblade.com

Foyt said “I know some great race drivers who were always satisfied with second or third when they could’ve won. They did not want to put that extra little effort. They were satisfied. My worst days were when I ran Indy and ran like crap myself. I couldn’t wait to get back there the next year to prove a point.” Knowing Foyt and his mind through the media at least, the cynic in us wondered which current drivers in the IndyCar series he might have been referring to – which drivers were satisfied with podiums rather than going above and beyond for race wins. Several leapt to mind.  

Ryan Briscoe made headlines recently, although not for his driving  or even his own efforts. His celebrity wife was promoted at ESPN and it was reported that the couple were moving to Connecticut. That’s a long way from his team and their  race shop in North Carolina. It’s not like Briscoe has torn up the tracks lately, as his last wins came at Sonoma in 2012 and Texas in 2010. He actually had a great year in 2009 with three wins and an amazing eight second place finishes, but that’s five years ago. His performance lately has fallen off and he’s had a disastrous last couple of seasons.

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Photo from indystar.com

Graham Rahal’s another driver who’s struggled mightily as of late. With a high finish of second in 2014, Rahal has only one career win in IndyCar. That came his rookie year as a nineteen year old at St. Pete, six years ago now. Graham’s been in the headlines for dating the gorgeous and talented Courtney Force lately, but hasn’t made news for his driving abilities for quite some time. Driving for his father, we wonder what he’s doing to significantly up his game.

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Photo from examiner.com

Finally, there’s the scion of the Andretti clan, Marco. He has only two wins in his eight year career which encompasses nearly a hundred and fifty IndyCar starts. Marco’s known to live the high life and makes fairly regular appearances in the press, just not for his on track performance. His last win was over three years ago in Iowa and this year’s campaign was disappointing to say the least, especially in comparison to his teammates. 

Another quote from Foyt may well apply to the young Andretti. Foyt reminisced  about his youthful days driving. “Back in those days when the sun went down was when it all started. You could stay up half the night partying away and get up in the morning and go to work feeling great, raring to go. You didn’t even feel it.”

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

Are these talented, potentially great drivers giving that little extra effort in the off season to put themselves in a position to win? Or are they doing what they’ve always done or less hoping against hope that things will turn around for them? Good ol’ A.J. – always one to make you think.

Interesting Ideas for International IndyCar Races

While the 2015 IndyCar schedule hasn’t been formally announced yet and several questions remain, the idea of an international portion of the schedule has existed for years coming out of the Boston Consulting Group’s recommendations to improve IndyCar. Overseas races are nothing new, as CART in particular made several foreign forays going back to the 1980s and 1990s. On the whole, these haven’t tended to be successful events. Nevertheless, IndyCar is rumored to be considering places like Dubai in the Middle East and yet another new venue in Brazil. Ugh.

Since the current leadership at 16th and Georgetown is taking their sweet time in announcing where the racing will occur next year, we thought it would be helpful to propose some interesting ideas for international IndyCar races for Mssrs. Miles, Walker and Cotman to consider. Besides, it’s about time to dust off the passport and continue filling it up with stamps – 18 and counting!

South America:

IndyCar trips traditionally have been to Brazil, but it may be time for a change. Brazilian drivers have been an important part of the series for decades now going back to Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi. However, the interest in IndyCar seems to be moving north away from Brazil and toward Colombia. Well it should. 

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Photo from seecolombia.travel

This very year Colombians Huertas, Munoz and Montoya swept the podium at a race in Houston and they now outnumber the Brazilian drivers in the series. With that in mind IndyCar brass should consider a race in Colombia, which has advanced far beyond the drug cartel and FARC violence of the 1980s and is now a welcoming destination for American tourists. From beaches to mountains, Colombia has much to offer with the added benefit of being a shorter trip than Brazil. Crowds will throng to see their fellow Colombians race – can you imagine the reception Montoya would receive?

Europe:

When it comes to racing on the Continent it’s a far more complex proposition due to a variety of factors. Drivers from Britain, France, Italy and even Russia currently compete in the IndyCar series. Obviously F-1 races primarily in Europe along with some foreign dates as well, so saturation becomes a consideration. Some countries like Switzerland have even outlawed motor racing, adding another layer of complexity. With the number of British drivers and the common culture, a race in the UK makes imminent sense. It could be held either at Brand’s Hatch or another existing circuit, unless ol’ David Cameron’s willing to build a nice short oval in the southeast in Kent.

Kent

One area of exciting potential lies in central and eastern Europe. Other than the Austria Grand Prix and Hungary Grand Prix, there aren’t any big league races in this portion of the old world providing an opening for IndyCar. Eastern Europeans absolutely adore Americans (unlike some other western Europeans) and would welcome the economic and cultural exchange. From personal experience Bratislava, Prague and Vienna are all historic, beautiful and pleasant cities to visit and the people are lovely. The beer, wine and food are outstanding. This area would be a rewarding choice for drivers and fans alike.

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Austral-Asia:

Due to the distances involved, visits to Australia and Asia obviously would be combined. Start off at the established track on Australia’s east coast with the streets of Surfer’s Paradise. The event has history and has done decently in the past, not to mention all the Aussies and New Zealanders in the series including the champ. There’s also the common language for the most part, and good beer. From there, it’s on to Asia – with a twist.

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Photo from beertripper.com

IndyCar already lacks oval tracks on the schedule and this is exacerbated by overseas racing where oval tracks are even rarer. So make an offer to nations from India to South Korea – build a state of the art mile and a half to two mile oval track with the necessary infrastructure and amenities and IndyCar will guarantee races there for the next decade. That offer in addition to the positive publicity and tourism potential may well attract some interest on mainland Asia and be the start of a long term racing relationship with the highest bidder. It’s a win-win-win as more exciting oval racing would be added along with an exotic foreign destination, plus reaching the millions of potential race fans there.