Unlike the State of the Union address, there’ll be no decrepit Supreme Court justices, no repeated interruptions by unnecessary ovations, no sappy sob stories (unless you count the tragic loss of oval tracks from the schedule), no political double speak and no throngs of Congressmen, thank goodness. All that would be waaay too much to endure. However, there is malaise, wrapped in anxiety and tinged with fear for the state of the series. Why? Because like the state of the union, the state of IndyCar ain’t all that great.
Photo from nypost.com
Like ISIS according to Obama, IndyCar remains the junior varsity team of motorsports in terms of following, coverage, visibility, sponsorship and respect. Although down from its peak of several years ago NASCAR long ago left IndyCar in its dust, while the latter has ceased even competing with the tax payer-subsidized multi-billion dollar corporation that is, to most Americans, the entirety of major league racing. Such is the sad and sickening state of American motorsports for millions of hard core IndyCar fans.
Similar to the country at large, the series suffers from chronically poor leadership, widespread loss of purpose and extremely uneven enforcement of the rules. IndyCar President Mark Miles has been atrocious, taking the series in strange, new and inferior directions. Some drivers, teams and individuals get away with blatant rule breaking – Team Penske, Graham Rahal, overreaching government bureaucrats (see the IRS, VA, NSA, etc.) – while other non-favorites are often arbitrarily singled out for punishment. Hell, last year’s champion “Mad” Will Power routinely rips IndyCar publicly, yet receives no consequences. As a result of this erosion of credibility, the future exists under a cloud of doubt, at least among those who are paying attention.
Photo from foxsports.com
Of course there are some positives in IndyCar, as it’s not entirely troubling news. The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 will be a landmark event that should bring substantially more media coverage than usual. Hopefully much of it will be positive, provided the powers that be don’t screw it up (see last May’s flying circus for an aerodynamic example). The centennial race is far too important to be in the charge of a group headed by Mark Miles and we’re hoping that they’re somehow able to put on a race worthy of the occasion.
Photo from ap.org
The sometimes self immolating series enjoyed some real American success stories including Graham “Goodwife” Rahal‘s championship battle and “Joltin’ Joe” Newgarden‘s bangin’ breakout year. Promising young Hoosier Conor Daly – literally on fire at Indy last May – received a full time ride for 2016 in another encouraging story. But it’s with Dale Coyne whose team has more crew members’ medical bills than wins.
All those positive trends can be screwed up, and major self inflicted challenges remain including the overly expensive and dangerous aero kits. Honda’s special dispensation with rules changes, shards of razor sharp flying debris and inordinate costs for mere tenths of seconds will remain issues going forward, just as they have been since the series introduced the kits in March. But hey, Miles and crew produced a bland new, understated, lower case and extremely awful logo, so there’s that.
Confusion surrounding the schedule as well as its direction – more road courses and fewer ovals – is disheartening and downright demoralizing to many fans. Recent flops like NOLA and Baltimore don’t bode well for proposed races in such wildly desirable places as Boston and central Mexico. These types of decisions are a big reason why IndyCar continues to languish as the Junior Varsity team. That’s the reality, not some Presidential understatement about a serious terrorist threat.
Photo from wcnc.com
Meanwhile open wheel racing’s rich oval legacy is being zeroed out, as the ancient Milwaukee Mile and the fantastic Fontana Speedway go unutilized and unvisited, along with many others. The NFL belatedly realized the value of the Los Angeles market, while sadly IndyCar has forgotten it. The hugely successful football league isn’t about to turn its back on its heritage either, as IndyCar seems so self destructively hell bent on doing.
Photo from twitter.com
Topping it all off for a series that could use some good news, former KV jockey Rafael Matos received a two year ban from another racing league for drugs. Oh well, thanks to the new BAC testing at least Stefano “crashier than Andretti” Coletti won’t be there to muck up the 100th running of the 500. But Sato and a whole host of one-offers will be, as will Mark Miles and his notorious crew. Unfortunately under what passes as leadership in this country, the state of the IndyCar series is troublingly precarious.