Is it really about CART vs. IRL?


 by Scott Morris
March 4, 2003

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Its been done many times in history. A key group of individuals sneak in the backdoor of a company and before you know it they have taken the joint over as their own. It has happened in both publicly traded and private companies alike, although the methods differ. Now, it seems, it has happened to the IRL. Just who has taken it over is a bit of a mystery. Is it NASCAR or CART? Tony seems to be the unwitting pawn in a battle that is really between CART and NASCAR, or road racing vs. oval racing.

The battle is not really between the IRL and CART. After all, how can something be called a battle when nobody shows up for IRL races, or watches CART on TV. For something to be a battle, you have to have something to fight over.

Regarding this battle between CART and NASCAR. I have seen a lot of NASCAR merchandise at CART events (which still amazes me), but no CART merchandise at NASCAR events (which doesn't amaze me.).  It seems like CART has a better chance of taking a portion of NASCAR's audience than NASCAR has of taking any of CART's audience. I never thought of it that way before, but it seems to make sense. Therefore, it seems logical that NASCAR might hedge their bet by supporting something that would weaken the only form of racing that has a chance of taking away any of their precious audience. If they manage to kill it off for their own form of open wheel racing (i.e. all oval), then they can also control it to make sure it is never a true threat. Hmmm.

Sticking with the point here, let's look at what Tony really has.

He has the CART teams that are the antithesis of that for which he claimed to have founded and established the IRL as a home. He has CART seasoned road-course drivers dominating the series. He has "furriners" speaking several languages in the paddock, instead of the subtle rural Midwestern drawl. He has budgets that are now just about equal, if not more than, that which the CART teams were spending in CART. He has engine leases. He has traction control. Aren't these things the reasons that he started his own series?

Oh yeah, the difference is that now he "owns" it? So it's a control thing. Well, who is really in control here?

Well, I wonder if "owning it" is a good thing. Owning something is not exactly beneficial if it loses money. I had a wise friend in the business world once tell me, ".if your business isn't making money, it's not a business.  it's a hobby." I guess Tony is just happy to have teams that he doesn't have to finance himself, at least until he faces the prospect of failing to fill an Indy 500 field for the first time in the history of the event. Where are 13 more cars going to come from?

OK, so even if it is an expensive hobby, which would be consistent with many types of racing, is it really his? It certainly appears that it is his, but you might want to look twice at that.

Consider that two factions effectively control almost all of the marketable oval tracks in the United States, both of which are NASCAR, or at the mercy of NASCAR. NASCAR/ISC clearly is supportive of the IRL. Does anyone really believe that NASCAR will allow the IRL to prosper? It may allow it to survive, but it certainly won't let it take away any of its market. If and/or when the IRL starts to draw significant crowds and television ratings, just watch how supportive NASCAR is of the IRL.

This is Tony's Achilles Heel.

This is punctuated by the fact that Tony has hinged the immediate future of the series on teams, talent, and manufacturers that have come from CART. Although this is touted as a victory, it seems that this really discredits the series to a significant degree. The talent wasn't developing, so they had to steal it from somewhere else. Talk about making the teams that bought into the IRL feel like neglected stepchildren. So sorry, Tony has a new family now.

So let's pretend that the IRL does become successful. It seems like a fairly safe bet that NASCAR would become much less supportive, suddenly seeing the IRL as a competitor.....unless they buyout the IRL.......Oh wow, here is a brainstorm, NASCAR supports the IRL, which drains Tony's pockets, and forces him to sell the speedway to ISC, who buys the IRL and IMS as package deal.   Then the value to the teams and sponsors decreases, or at best, reaches a plateau. This limits the long term growth of the series. The teams and manufacturers start looking for greener grass (or something else that is green), and the IRL is dead. It seems like anyway you slice it, the IRL has no true prospect for long term growth.

CART on the other hand, seems to make its own way. There is much talk about CART and Bernie Ecclestone. Even if Bernie were to buy CART completely, CART would still be self-defined and self sufficient, as Bernie does not control the tracks CART races on. In fact, nobody controls more than one of the tracks CART races on, except the respective local governments. This puts CART in a position of control for the long term, and places it a position for growth. If it turns into a control game, or CART is not getting their due, they can just go somewhere else. Where else will the IRL go? I suppose Tony could build fifteen new tracks, or they could run at quarter-mile oval tracks in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and northern Idaho.

The IRL's former champions don't look like they are going to be able to compete (two of them don't even have rides), and Chevy is getting left behind as well. What happens when Chevy can't keep up, and decides to quit? Tony will have a stable of all foreign engines, drivers, engineers, and chassis. Where is Tony going to find the Roger Ward's and George Bignotti's for today?

I wonder if Chevy is going to be like Goodyear Tires, and quit when presented with competition.

Now, CART has all Ford engines. Initially, I thought this was a bad thing.  "Oh no, a spec-series". However, it occurred to me that some of the best racing in CART was when you had to have a Chevy Ilmor Indy V-8. Yeah there was an Alfa Romeo (which was really a poor and clandestine copy of the Chevy) and a couple of token Buicks out there running, but you had to have Chevy to win. Then Ford came in, and then Honda, and then Toyota and Mercedes, and Chevy was long gone way by the time any of the other company's engineers even got off the plane.

The difference is that I don't think Ford would disappear if other engines began to show up.

So the IRL looks like CART, and CART looks like CART. Somebody remind me again why the IRL exists? It seems to me like Tony George, who thinks he is in charge, is really the one being manipulated in a feud that is going on in his front yard. He thinks he is in control, but is really at the mercy of NASCAR, and the teams that came from CART, and the manufacturers that came from CART. If all the above decide they don't need Tony anymore, he is left without tracks to race on, no way of getting people to buy 2-for-1 tickets they don't use, and a bunch of second rate teams and drivers sitting around with nothing to do.

If Tony brings his hammer to work everyday, I hope he brings some ice and bandages for his thumbs too.

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