Editorial

Open Wheel Racing needs win by OWRS - Part 1
 by Jim Allen
January 25, 2004

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Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles that will explain why, if Open Wheel Racing is to survive and prosper long-term, that Open Wheel Racing Series, LLC (OWRS) must prevail in their bid to buy the necessary CART assets to continue the Champ Car Series.  Part 1 explains why the IRL is failing and why, if they were to win on Wednesday, it will do nothing to strengthen the sport.  In fact, just the opposite because the CART fans loyalty is not transferable to the IRL.  Part 2 explains why IRL controlling Open Wheel Racing will lead to the eventual extinction of the sport altogether.

Over the decade since the idea for the IRL was first hatched, the IRL autocracy has had one basic assumption about CART fans: they will blindly support whatever product is supplied. This view was best expressed by Tony George himself in recent days when he stated that some people will have to be brought into the fold “kicking and screaming.” What George and his autocracy have failed to understand is that the lack of trust those fans have for the IRL and everything – and everyone – for and by which it stands means they will not be brought into the fold, regardless of the method. It’s either Champ Car racing as they’ve known or find other things to do on Sunday.

It's been nearly eight years since the IRL was created and nearly 10 years since the faulty idea upon which it is based was hatched – around the same time Team Penske successfully negotiated an IMS loophole for purpose-built push-rod engines in 1994. Yet after all this time, the autocracy and their supporters have failed to grasp that CART fans not only dislike the IRL, they despise everything about it. From the true original self-serving, flag-waving “principles” that surrounded its launch, to its overweight, underpowered and over-winged cars; from its fat, bloated, guttural sounding engines, to its NASCAR-wannabe-rules; and from its dangerous, expensive and oh-so-repetitive brand of racing, to its arrogant owner and benefactor.

The odd thing is that a number of former CART insiders also overlooked the depth of these feelings among CART’s faithful. Toyota and Honda both failed to recognize fan opinions after the better part of a decade in the sport; either that or they deluded themselves to believe that the fans they built over their CART tenures would give up their convictions to follow them to the other side. Perhaps it was the egos of Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske and Michael Andretti that kept them from recognizing it was about the sport, not the team owners that was the draw. Even Marlboro and Target, two of the more market savvy institutions in the world, failed to grasp that not only would they not retain their CART fans but that the piddling number of IRL fans was insufficient to make the betrayal worth their while.

It’s not that CART’s fans haven’t wanted reconciliation with the IRL. How many times have they asked, pleaded, begged for it, only to be rebuffed? The point is that during this decade of struggle for open-wheel "supremacy," IRL management hasn't lifted so much as an eyebrow to win over the fans of CART. Yes, they put on a show every week and they can’t force fans to fill their seats – but they can force them to buy tickets to get a coveted Nextel Cup ticket – or watch the race on television, which is all too evident. But beyond that, their actions speak louder than words.

The autocracy never appeared to negotiate in good faith about unification when CART came calling. Time and again they have received overtures from representatives of CART (Bobby Rahal) and the fans (Mario Andretti) and even, it seems, from Paul Gentilozzi. Yet every time, Tony George and his henchmen – remember Leo Mehl? – responded with platitudes about building the IRL. Then, beginning somewhere around 1999, that strategy of “building the IRL” took on an air of raiding CART’s garages first for its best-known drivers and then its best-financed teams.

The implication of these actions has always been that the IRL was not about improving the series, as they have so frequently tried to make us believe. No, the implication is that their goal was to divide and destroy the sport so that one man could control it, lock, stock and barrel.

Now, after eight years of unfulfilled hopes among the CART faithful for reconciliation comes talk from the autocracy and their sound pieces about the need and hope for “unification.” It comes at the same time George’s hired goons consider a surreptitious attempt to eliminate the Champ Car series through a hostile bid for its premier assets and races. They apparently think that this will ultimately assuage those same fans’ desire for strong open-wheel racing in North America and their fears about the IRL.

Again, they just don’t get it.

IRL management apparently believes that by shuttering CART, IRL teams will no longer have to compete for sponsors.

Again, they fail to recognize the truism of this divide: CART fans hate the IRL.

And without CART’s fans dutifully jumping on the IRL bandwagon, just how will this so-called unification-through-takeover strategy work? Without the fans, sponsors will have no more interest than they have now. Indeed, shut down CART and the IRL’s television audience will likely fall by about 25% as CART fans won’t have an interest in tuning in to see how few people are in the stands or how few laps are run under green because they will find other things to do on Sundays. And before George can build a fan base, the sponsors will put the series out of business.

By now, though, it’s too late for the autocracy to make overtures to CART’s faithful. The gloves are coming off and there is no way that those fans will ever believe or like anything that the IRL does. It just won’t happen.

It is a remarkable error of judgment from an organization wholly reliant upon companies forking over cash to catch the eye and imagination of spectators. It is a folly not achieved since, well, since the IRL was created in the first place.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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Author

Others by Jim

Open Wheel racing needs win by OWRS - Part 1

Analyzing the CART/OWRS/ISC situation

Honda and Toyota's Billion Dollar Hissy Fit

We need a good grudge match

Inundated with NASCAR

Now I'm confused

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