Behind The Lines

An open letter to Tony George
Jim Allen
September 29, 2000

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Other's by Jim

Dear Tony,
I hope you don't mind the familiarity, but I was at your house twice this past weekend - for the first time since 1996 - and I thought you should know what some of your other guests were saying about you, about this past weekend's gig, about your mid-Spring race and about your IRNLS experiment. The stories I am about to relay are true which is why I decided to write.

Before I begin, congratulations on your award for being a model citizen of Indianapolis. It must feel good that some five years after you nearly ruined your mainstay event - and the livelihoods of many dependent upon it - that your efforts have restored part, if not all, of the economic benefits of your speedway by providing two new races.

That said I'll give you the good news first. One older gentleman - and he was, indeed, a gentleman; considerate, friendly, knowledgeable - said he liked your IRNLS series. He said you've got some good racing going on. Indeed the last time I saw one of your events on the television - Dallas in June - it was a good close race, the kind you see in Indy Lights, Formula Atlantic, Barber Dodge or Champ Car events. The same gentleman, I might add, said he also thought CART put on a very good show. "I like 'em all," he added; hence his presence at your house last weekend.

Then there were the Kentuckians I talked with while waiting at a phone booth just outside Stand C. They, too, raved about your series and the new track in their back yard. "The trucks were doin' 180," they said. 

They went on to brag about what a great event the IRNLS had there. "They were doin' 212 out of the box," they said. They added that they went into the infield during the weekend and got autographs of 26 - that's right, 26 - drivers. The point was, they were delighted at the access.

There was just one problem: When I asked them whose autographs they'd received, they told me they got 'em from people like A.J. Foyt and Arie Luyendyk. I told them that those guys used to drive and asked them about which current drivers obliged them. One mentioned Tyce Carlson while the other one, fishing for names, came up with "Neves, or Castro-Neves?" "That guy's a Champ Car driver," I told him. 

Ultimately, they confirmed what I had suspected for some time: your series has a serious recognition problem. Of the 26 autographs, the only ones they could come up with were ex-drivers, a habitual back-marker and a Champ Car driver.. 

There was another couple I talked with who made the trek from Massachusetts to see the F1 guys. They'd also made the trip to see the '500 a couple of times. Still, they did not think too highly of your league.,. They even liked a particularly disparaging T-shirt they saw at your place on Saturday. It showed on the left side your entire league's tracks, while on the right were CART's. The caption, they said, laughing, read something to the effect that CART may have its problems, but the IRL is still a big "0." They were unsure of whether it was an "O" for oval, or what, but it didn't seem too complimentary.

Not everything was negative, though. In particular, your F1 event was a hit with some of the female members of our entourage. Some of my brother's pilot buddies were so enthralled by the event that they have booked rooms at the Hilton for the event five years into the future. My wife, too, really liked it, except for the cold weather and Mika Hakkinen going out so early. But none of that is your fault, and I informed her that there were probably 50,000 or so Tifosi - those were those lunatics walkin' 'round your place wearin' red - which were quite pleased with the result. 
The glowing reviews just kept coming. Another female relative said it was the best race she'd seen at your place all year - she'd gone to the '500, the Brickyard and the USGP. Apparently, all she'd heard about F1 was that there was no passing, a view your new fall classic helped debunk. Her only problem was that she didn't know the names of any of the drivers. But that's a problem you now have twice a year, given the memories of the Kentucky contingent. 

Then again, maybe these positive reviews about the F1 event aren't such good news after all. She and my wife are the kinds of fans open-wheel racing in this country needs to reach if it is to survive and prosper. And if they find out that road racing is actually entertaining - by going to an event at your palace, of all places - well, that doesn't bode well for your ovals-only experiment, now does it? 

But let's look at the bright side of things. You are now an honored member of the Indianapolis glitterati, ironically because you have witnessed first hand the popularity of road racing. . And lucky for you and all of us Americans interested in both ovals and road courses, we have CART to watch. So, from what I heard at Indy this past weekend, you might want to talk with the folks at CART really soon before the Speedway's first race permanently becomes its least popular.

Your guest, 

Jim Allen

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