Posted on: May 8, 2010 3:41 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2010 3:42 pm

Deaf Ears

Last week I wrote an open letter to Indy Racing League new head honcho Randy Bernard here at CBS Sports.com (http://tinyurl.com/23cab64). In the piece I shared some of my thoughts on where the Indy Car series is right now and where it's headed.

Based on a move the series made last week my note wound up in the dead letter office.

In its infinite wisdom the IRL added yet another street circuit to the series' schedule with the announcement of a Baltimore Grand Prix. With all due respect to the fine folks in Maryland if ever there was a word that didn't belong in front of "Grand Prix" it's Baltimore.

Don't get me wrong, I love the city and I mean that sincerely. The Inner Harbor, the Italian restaurants, the setting for "Hairspray" (the original by John Waters not that trumped up musical version), Camden Yards and one of the world's best aquariums are just a few of Baltimore's many attributes. But watching another Indy Car racing parade through whatever goofy street circuit the powers that be come up with is one more example of just how out of touch the IRL management group is with reality.

I have no doubt the event will make money, at least in year one. The novelty of a big time auto racing event (notice how I'm not using the word race) will certainly bring out curiosity seekers and folks looking for a weekend party. Nothing wrong with that.

But I'm afraid that unless Baltimore somehow finds the magic potion that so many other street circuit venues have failed to discover (Denver, Las Vegas, San Jose, Cleveland and Houston to name a few) Maryland will vanish from the IRL calendar in short order. 

It's rare for a street circuit to provide what is paramount to a successful auto racing event - a competitive track. More often than not once the green flag flies and the excitement and anticipation dies down, the business of the race plays second fiddle because they are usually boring follow-the-leader affairs.

But the dollars will come in the short term and that appears all the IRL's new management cares for, following the mantra of the previous regime who brought the American open wheel world to its current sorry state. That's a shame and I truly expected more from Mr. Bernard. 

I'll hold out hope there is better news coming from the Indy Car world and more foresight than simply repeating its failed history at different zip codes around the country.

At least we'll have crab cakes to look forward to next year.

Category: Auto Racing
Tags: IRL
Posted on: November 6, 2009 3:59 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2009 4:03 pm

Shirt Happens

Great news that the IRL finally landed a title sponsor with the signing of IZOD to back IndyCar racing in a multi-year deal. I'm looking forward to covering a few races next year just so I can dust off those old IZOD golf shirts I have hanging in my closet.

But the Danica Patrick news of her impending move to NASCAR has to be a bitter pill to swallow for the league and even though she'll be around open wheel racing for the next couple of years as she figures out her stock car career, there's no one close to taking her place as the IRL's lightning rod.

I've addressed ideas in the past that I believe would help the Indy Car Series attract more fans and generate the interest I truly believe the series warrants. There are some very talented drivers in the IRL that at times put on exciting racing which deserves to be seen by more than the current cult following the sport has on its side.

But rather than cultivating new American drivers - like Patrick for example - the Indy Racing League has reverted back to the formula of what really amounts to a mini-Formula One circuit. More road course and street circuits, additional foreign drivers and international venues is not the way to win the hearts of the true American-based open wheel fan, who was raised on sprint car and midget racing.

Wasn't that what the IRL was supposed to be when it was formed out of the open wheel Civil War of the mid-1990s? The original plan was to allow American drivers who were working their way up the open wheel ladder to follow their dream of running in big time Indy Car racing while also competing in the Indianapolis 500.

Today's IRL is a far cry from that and is really just a carbon copy of what the old CART circuit was before things blew up. And rather than try to tap into the huge NASCAR fan base, which truth be told is feeling a bit of unrest these days and might be looking for an alternative racing experience, the IRL continues to push further away from the opportunity.

The high speed oval races that are without a doubt some of the most exciting events of any series are slowly going away in favor of you guessed it more road racing. The opportunity of bringing NASCAR drivers to Indianapolis for a chance to compete in the 500 was squashed with the ill-fated decision to move back the starting time of Indy, making it impossible for anyone to complete the double and arrive in time for the NASCAR Charlotte nightcap.

The now disastrous television deal with the Versus Network - which dramatically reduced the number of households available to watch IRL events from the former contract with ESPN - has now crashed and burned with DirecTV's decision to drop the network, further eroding the potential audience numbers.

And now the possible defection of Patrick, who will no doubt generate tons of media exposure and interest with her foray to NASCAR.

Perhaps Patrick will bring some of the NASCAR world over to watch the IRL as she hops back and forth the next couple of years. That could be an unforeseen benefit to the league.

But it will take more than one driver to keep things afloat and the IRL is again at what I consider a serious crossroads for the future of American open wheel racing.

At least everyone will be well-dressed with the new series sponsor.

Category: Auto Racing
Tags: IRL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com