Editor's Note: This is the second
in a series of articles that 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 by Jim Allen explained why the IRL is failing and why, if they were to win on Wednesday, it
will do nothing to strengthen the sport. The CART fan's 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.
We have heard all of the arguments for unification of Open Wheel
Racing in America. At one time, we
shared that view. However, most recently, it has become clear that IRL control of open
wheel racing would be the worst possible outcome. We say that for the following
The myth that unification will restore Open Wheel's past glory - We have heard
this argument from Tony George, Roger Penske and Michael Andretti. What they fail
to comprehend is the absolute contempt that CART fans hold for each of these self
aggrandizing individuals. Most CART fans believe that road racing is the absolute
test of a driver's ability and history has shown that to be totally true. While
appreciative of a few oval races that add diversity to the calendar, they do not want to
see dumbed down, rev-limited, managed oval racing on a week-to-week basis.
NASCAR, during the protracted CART/IRL war (1995 to present), has
monopolized the oval track racing market. To think that an Open Wheel Series can
prosper, by going head-to-head in the same market with NASCAR, is sheer folly. Why
would sponsors want to pay for advertising exposure in redundant markets when NASCAR
gives them a bigger bang for the buck?
Lies, lies, and more lies - Despite the revisionist history that
has recently been put out by the IRL propaganda machine, the basic premises of the IRL
was American drivers in American cars on American ovals. Tony George was outraged
when Jeff Gordon was not given an opportunity by the CART owners. When Gordon went
to NASCAR, George founded the IRL, to never let this happen again. However, we
have seen a continuous exodus to NASCAR by former short track oval stars like Tony
Stewart, Kenny Irwin, Ryan Newman, and now triple USAC champion JJ Yeley and Kasey
Meanwhile, USAC open wheelers continue to wear their "Road to Indy" hats.
This is truly sad because they have no chance in the IRL against the onslaught of road
course trained drivers from CART and various European series. This has not gone
over well with the original Indy-centric fans and former IRL stalwart car owners such as
Fred Treadway, Ron Hemelgarn and Jonathan Byrd.
Tony George said he wanted to start the IRL to have assurances there
would be enough cars to fill the Indy 500 field. In 2003 the IRL didn't even have
enough cars to have a Bump Day. That was never a problem in the CART days.
The myth of the IRL business plan - While we have not been
privy to the IRL Business Plan, common sense tells you that racing Open Wheel cars on
concrete walled ovals is absolutely absurd. Not only are we seeing an unconscionable
number of serious bone breaking injuries, but the series produced approximately $13
million of damaged cars in one year (2003). We don't care if the IRL has a gold plated
business plan, because no amount of blind vision or business plan will save this
Without the massive continued infusion of the Hulman George family coffers and the
support of Honda and Toyota, the IRL's continued existence is highly suspect. The IRL
has been in business for 8 years now and has lost money every single year. Whether you
know it or not, we know that Tony George has paid every single purse for those 8 years.
This is voodoo economics at its best. Any company losing money for 8 straight years
would be bankrupt by now. When Honda and Toyota pull out for the greener pastures of
NASCAR, the IRL will go into the trash bin of history. Some business plan, huh?
The myth of stable IRL leadership - There is this myth that only
CART has had too many leadership changes. However, the IRL is just as bad - from
Jerry Hauer to Jack Long (with Cary Agajanian) to Leo Mehl to now Tony George, the IRL's
leadership has been a revolving door.
The downfall of the Indy 500 - An absolute icon of American sports
appears to have been irrevocably damaged under the leadership of Anton Hulman George.
Prior to the inception of the IRL, Indy 500 tickets were nearly impossible to obtain.
On race day, you could obtain tickets from ticket brokers and scalpers at a minimum of
double face value. From 1996 onward, the ticket brokers and scalpers can't give
them away. Sadly, last year veteran observers of the Speedway reported about
15,000 empty seats as well as noting that tickets can be obtained on Georgetown Road for
as low as $5 or $10 on race morning.
The TV ratings plummeted from a high under CART of 12.9 in 1984 (and
9.2/31 share in 1992) to last year's 4.6/14 share under the IRL. A drop of over
64%. Since the IRL was formed it's been all downhill.
Do you seriously call this leadership? If Tony George was the head
of a Fortune 500 company he would have been fired. Quite frankly, we are outraged.
Severe blow to road racing in USA - 1) What will happen to
the road racing support series? They will die off with no top-level Open Wheel
road racing series. Curiously, this is where the latest IRL poster boy, Sam
Hornish, was trained. 2) Where will Americans learn how to drive? Road
racing has proven to be the best training ground for young Americans, from karting up to
Champ Cars. The 6-step ladder is all road racing based. 3) Without a
proper road racing ladder system in America, there is no possible hope for Americans to
compete on the world stage, because the rest of the world is exclusively road racing and
our oval track drivers will be clearly outgunned. Because of this, Mario
Andretti and Phil Hill will be the only World Driving Champions that America ever
The high cost of oval track racing - We have pounded on this
issue time and time again. We are seeing an unconscionable number of serious bone
breaking injuries. We refer you to this
article (There's more than handwriting on the wall, and here are the concrete
facts), which lays out the grim facts of all the injuries to drivers in the IRL
compared to CART since the IRL's inception.
Since 1996, of the 235 race weekends, 86 were IRL races
and 149 were CART races, or 37% IRL and 63% CART. Although CART had many more
races, the number of injuries in the IRL were 127 to just 48 for CART. In other
words, the IRL had only 37% of the events, but 73% of the injuries. That equates
to an average of 1.443 injuries per race weekend for the IRL and 0.322 injuries per race
for CART. The data indicates, you are 448% more likely to get injured during an
IRL race weekend than a CART race weekend.
Another IRL myth is that they have reduced the cost of racing. How
so? Last year alone they racked up approximately $13 million in car damage.
Participation in the IRL is far more expensive than CART. If the IRL was as cheap
as the mythology suggested, then what happened to Jonathan Byrd, Fred Treadway, and Ron
Hemelgarn? Even millionaire John Menard was unable to continue with his own
separate team in this mythological low-cost series. Almost every accident results
in expensive car destruction against hard concrete walls, the SAFER Barrier included.
IRL's 4 road races - what about the other 14? - The IRL is part of the
Oval Track Cartel. They will never run more than 4 or 5 road courses a year.
That would go against the Cartel's business plan and would certainly upset the France
family, their oval track mentor and partner. Imagine the loss of jobs and the
severe blow to the local economies of the other 14 CART venues that will have no place
on the IRL calendar. Not only that, there will be a huge loss of jobs in the CART
Cost for CART teams to buy all new equipment to race in IRL -
The existing Champ Car teams have a lot invested in Champ Car equipment, which will be
useless if they have to buy new equipment to go racing in the IRL. Who is
going to pay for all those cars?
Summary - We find it curious that at this late stage in the game,
Tony George is talking about unification of Open Wheel racing in the USA. It
doesn't take a cynic to question his motives. CART has tried for a reconciliation
for at least five years. First it was Barry Green and Bobby Rahal. Then it
was Roger Penske and then Chris Pook's unreturned phone calls. Recently it was the
Paul Gentilozzi "Tony and I are friends" talk. There was never any real
serious consideration by Tony George for open wheel unification.
This last minute bid to buy CART's engines and its premier American date,
the Long Beach GP, is nothing more than a last minute effort to finally kill CART. Can
you imagine the pitiful IRL cars at Long Beach? We have and it's an abomination.
talk of unification or reconciliation of the fan base, by a man who says "I bring my
hammer to work everyday" is delusional. Placing Open Wheel Racing's future in the
hands of the IRL will lead to its eventual extinction. For these reasons we expect
Judge Otte to reject the Tony George bid and in so doing, he will allow the OWRS to
perpetuate the great tradition of Champ Car Racing.
The authors can be contacted at
to discuss this article