seems to be afraid to say it in public so I will - The only reason
CART is talking to Tony George about merging with the IRL is to get
CART's teams and their sponsors back at Indy. Period. It's
not because CART wants to race at Pikes Peak, Charlotte or
Atlanta. Indy is what they want, and Indy is what they may
eventually get. But at what price? I
submit to you this:
If CART and
the IRL merge, a lot of racing team members in both leagues will be out of a
job. There are just too many teams and not enough available
qualifying positions for all the current teams of both leagues to
make the races.
If CART and
the IRL merge, a lot of drivers will be without a ride for all the
same reasons as #1.
If CART and
the IRL merge, a lot of current races will be dropped. There
is even talk of eliminating races like Australia, a extremely successful event, and other overseas venues.
CART is a
public company, the IRL private. Can the two different
corporate cultures be happy together in the long run?
If CART and
the IRL merge, a lot of current equipment will get scrapped.
If CART and
the IRL merge, is CART willing to agree to a mostly oval series
like the IRL side wants? Given how successful CART's road
and street races are, and how unsuccessful many of CART's and the
IRL's oval races are, one has to wonder if a reality check is not
If CART and
the IRL merge, the engines will become less sophisticated, the
rules more limiting. Ford, Mercedes, Toyota, and Honda don't
want that. While these companies want to build smaller,
higher revving engines, the IRL wants bigger, heavier, and a lower
revving variety. Why force it on them?
If CART and
the IRL merge, does anyone really think current IRL teams can
compete on an even plane with CART teams? Honestly folks,
that just isn't going to happen. Why force it on them?
When one closely
examines the facts, one quickly comes to the conclusion that a unified
Indy Car series, although desirable on the surface, would be next to
impossible to achieve. The philosophies are just too different for
there ever to be harmony in the long run.
So until CART and the IRL either run each other
into the ground or one collapses, a unification is unlikely. And
as much as I would love to see an end to all this bickering and animosity,
I don't think a unification is necessary. The best thing the two
sides can do for the sport is agree to not schedule races on the same
day and come together once a year at Indy.
Let's assume CART
and the IRL don't merge. Is that really the end of the
world? Is that the only way for CART teams to appease their sponsors
by getting back to the Indy 500? I submit to you this - a
loud and resounding NO!
The IRL was
formed on the premise that because it works for NASCAR, it must work
for Indy cars. The IRL has
attempted to mimic the NASCAR formula in an open wheel series without
success. When I say mimic, I mean all ovals, more controlled
rules and cost, and a 'stock block' sound. CART's ovals have been far from a resounding success
either. If fans are so interested in seeing open wheel cars on
oval tracks, then how come they don't watch on TV and they don't show
up at the race tracks? Nearly every Indy car race on an oval
track has seen a drop in attendance from year to year for the last
Because the IRL was
formed, CART perceived it as a major threat so they immediately started to
add ovals races to their series to counter the IRL's all-oval philosophy,
when in fact that is not what the marketplace wanted.
CART has made
their mark by being the premier road racing series in North
America (They present a great oval show as well, but their
non-ovals dwarf the ovals in popularity). That's right the premier road racing series,
and NASCAR is the premier oval track series in North America. To
the average fan, oval track racing is NASCAR. NASCAR is
huge. NASCAR is a giant, a marketing steamroller.
CART is the premier road racing series, then why reverse direction now? Why try to give fans more oval racing
when NASCAR gives it to them, week in and week out? Winston
Cup, Busch, Trucks - everywhere we turn we are bombarded by oval
track racing. If I am an oval track fan and I want to watch
oval racing, I tune in to NASCAR. Open wheel racing, by
virtue of the fact drivers can't rub fenders, can't draft as
well because the cars don't make a big hole in the air, will never
race as close and never be as entertaining to the majority of oval racing fans as NASCAR.
Never! Period! End of story! Live with it!
Lick your wounds and move on!
Sure CART has a few
successful oval track events. Fontana and Chicago come to
mind. No one is saying to drop them all, but the deadbeat ones
should be eliminated. Nothing is worse for the image of a sport than
to see it played before largely empty grandstands. Ask the
IRL. Ask CART after Michigan and Nazareth. It is demoralizing
for the fans, and even more demoralizing for the drivers, teams and
Some track owners are pushing Indy car racing toward oval tracks so
they can run an additional race to generate revenue, however, will
the races be successful? Did they ever bother to ask the fans
what they want? Is it at all possible that me, the
average race fan,
after I have purchased tickets for, say, two Winston Cup races at
Michigan in one year, I may be all tapped out and won't purchase
one for your Indy car race?
This has proven to be the case
at Michigan, and each of the Indy car races run at venues that
also have Winston Cup races - Homestead, Phoenix, New Hampshire, Atlanta,
Charlotte, Texas, Las Vegas, and
Dover. For all intents in purposes, these NASCAR successful
tracks have not been able to sell the Indy car product.
Bruton Smith is on record as saying they 'marketed the hell out of the
last IRL race in Atlanta', yet the attendance was so bad, the race may
be dropped. How much money do you
expect the same fans to put out in one year before they say enough is
By running Indy
cars on the same track as NASCAR you beg to be compared. It's
inevitable. And guess who wins every time? NASCAR can fill
the seats and every year the tracks build even more grandstands to
accommodate them. When the Indy cars show up and they are 1/2 to
3/4 empty, people come away with an image that Indy car racing is a
loser. So why put yourself in that situation?
CART must tap a different
segment of the population, the road racing fan segment. The
oval track fan base is depleted, NASCAR has sucked the well dry, and will continue to do so.
Sure the recent CART race in Chicago was a big success, but will it be
once NASCAR comes to town?
eliminating street and road races in a merged CART/IRL series
makes one wonder! Record crowds continue to flock to road
and street races just as fast as they are disappearing at
ovals. One has to look no further than Miami to see that
CART drew 90,000 fans to its only race in the downtown Miami
streets, and saw that number cut in half when it moved to the
Homestead oval. It has never recovered.
Street and road course races
such as this weekends race in Vancouver are a weekend event. Fans flock
to the track Friday, Saturday and Sunday giving the track owner
the opportunity to generate revenue for three days rather than
one. Road races favor camping out, concerts and other family
stuff. Given the magnitude
of CART's sanctioning fee structure, road races are more likely to
stay financially solvent over the long run.
are another story. CART fans love
the sound of turbocharged engines. They help make CART unique. They are
the very essence of CART's heritage. Would NASCAR ever trade
in their engine formula for a turbo formula? Heck no.
It is part of their heritage as well. And non-turbo engines
are louder. What will the neighbors in Chicago say if the
noise level goes up with normally aspirated engines? What
about Long Beach? Toronto? Vancouver? Houston? Australia?
Milwaukee? Why create more noise in today's environmentally
conscious society? To
destroy the sound that distinguishes a Champ Car from a stock car,
a F-1 car, or from any other form of racing, is a strategic error.
Maybe it's just me, but an Indy car that sounds like a stock car just
doesn't seem right.
CART's engine manufacturers presented to CART a viable 1.8 liter
highly turbocharged engine formula, one that would probably last 10
years or more. It would mean that CART would retain their distinctive
sound, and have an easy means of controlling HP through gradual decreases
in turbo boost. Small pistons of a 1.8 liter engine will allow
the engineers the ability to produce a smaller, higher revving
engine, one that challenges their technical imagination.
already have a stock-block, low tech racing series. It's
called NASCAR. Because CART thinks they have a chance of
unification with the IRL they have not acted on the manufacturer's
recommendation. Big mistake.
now back to where I started, CART at Indy. Does CART need to
unify with the IRL to race at Indy? No, ever since the 25/8
rule was rescinded, CART teams were free to race at Indy.
However, CART made a strategic error by always scheduling a race
on the same weekend as Indy and discouraging Champ car teams from
racing in the 500.
are large compared to IRL budgets. IRL equipment is cheap and it is now
reliable. One idea is to adopt the IRL formula for Indy
Lights - See CART & IRL - To
Unify...Dont Unify. Another is for CART to take about $20 million
from their coffers and give it
to every Champ Car Team (about $1 million per car) to buy some IRL
that the Indy 500 is only a two week event, the added cost to run Indy
will increase current budgets by about 10%. If
the Michael Andretti's of the world run a few IRL races
every year to acclimate themselves to IRL equipment, come
May their chances of making the big race will be
excellent. And Michael Andretti or Juan Montoya showing up
at a few IRL races sure wouldn't hurt the IRL. It may be just the
extra boost that series needs in its quest to mimic NASCAR.
closing, it is evident that CART has an identity problem. It thinks
maybe it has to be a NASCAR because NASCAR is so successful. It
thinks maybe it has to be an IRL, because the IRL has the Indy 500.
It thinks. it thinks, it thinks. What CART really needs to be (they
just haven't figured it out yet) is unique. And to stop trying to be
what it is not.