Combining the words “IndyCar” and “leadership” in the same sentence goes beyond oxymoronic – it blasts into “Total Recall” territory (the good one with Arnold, not the remake). Put another way, the likelihood of sound decisions coming out of 16th and Georgetown is roughly equivalent to the chances of getting some water to go with that bourbon on your next visit to the red planet.
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Derrick Walker still hasn’t been replaced as President of Competition months after his resignation, there’s no announced schedule for 2016 and the interminable six month off season has only just begun. The sport’s been hemorrhaging fans, forgetting its own past and merely managing to limp along. Mark Miles was supposed to be the savior; instead he’s proven to be a dud. Otherwise, things are going well – no disaster to see here.
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In fairness it’s not all doom and gloom, just largely. Positives include competitive racing most of the season, an uptick in viewership if not attendance and spending millions on needed renovations at IMS – including millions of taxpayers’ dollars – in preparation for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. It’ll be interesting to see how this important and historic event is handled. The 500 and the series need multiple competitive engines and Honda still hasn’t officially confirmed its participation, although it’s expected.
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Some quarters in the press even have called for an end to the sport in the wake of Justin Wilson’s tragic accident at Pocono. Happily few paid any heed to those misguided calls. Safety concerns of course have been an issue and that’s both understandable and expected in open wheel racing. The series over-reacted with the aero kits prior to the 500 but responded rationally for a change after Wilson’s death and deserve credit for paying a fitting tribute to him.
Sadly though IndyCar’s problems outweigh its positives. An utter lack of leadership underlies all this and the series continues to drift aimlessly along, as if on a float trip down a Martian river. Contracting teams, loss of sponsors, fewer races and confused coverage don’t help. Nor do the other schedule concerns – scheduling is a basic part of any sports league. IndyCar not knowing much less announcing its calendar until October the last two years is beyond amateurish. It’s “Mars Attacks” type madness.
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The continuing erosion of ovals from the schedule is particularly disconcerting to many fans. IndyCar went from 100% ovals in the 1990s to 50% ovals to now almost exclusively road courses. During roughly the same period, the sport has gone from the only game in town to an also ran to its current status as a footnote, if deemed worthy of mention at all. Meanwhile, NASCAR dominates the scene and over at the Star Curt Cavin keeps fiddling while the series burns.
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Too much uncertainty surrounds the sport nearly a decade after the end of the split. Where are they racing next year? With what engines? Who’s the next face of race control? Who’s in charge here? These questions – not to mention the near total lack of enforcement of the rules this season – unfortunately call the very legitimacy of the series into question.
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IndyCar’s amnesia when it comes to its own history strongly recalls Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio production of “War of the Worlds.” A hoax may stir interest, but it never lasts. Before widespread panic sets in, someone needs to lead IndyCar through its latest existential threat – before it’s too late.