IndyCar: Gladiators working for the Circus
The late, great Carroll Smith once said something to the effect that ‘Nobody should pursue a career as a race car driver unless they simply cannot be happy doing anything else” and those words have perhaps never been more true than today.
I’m 43 years old and I’ve been following, racing, writing about, and just being a fan of racing for 30 years. You don’t know my name, so I didn’t make it to the bigs. But I went for it and I was prepared to risk everything once upon a time. A lot of us were. The ones who made it did risk everything to get there. And some of them died doing it. Jovy, Gonzo, Greg, Krosnoff, Brayton, Renna, Dana, and Dan.
I guess that’s what pisses me off most about the fact that IndyCar is governed by an incompetent, detached Midwestern aristocracy and a group of team owners that make the NHL look like the NFL.
IndyCar drivers are some of the most competent people in sports; they have to be masters of marketing, fitness, engineering, physics, and of course be some of the best drivers on the planet. Add to that an unreasonable sense of self confidence and the sheer bravery to go into turn one, three wide, at 225 mph.
IndyCar drivers are willing to risk their lives to participate in Indycar’s product.
In return for this rather astonishing commitment, IndyCar is run like a used car dealership who’s owners have a coke problem (that’s a lower case C there, TG). This has been going on for as long as I can remember. Andrew Craig, Chris Pook, Joe Heitzler, Tony George, etc.
It’s like Seal Team Six taking orders from The Three Stooges.
Then, a couple of years ago, IndyCar managed to land Randy Bernard. Why he took the job, I have no idea. Maybe they didn’t have the internet on the PBR circuit and he simply wasn’t aware he was about to be Henry the VIII’s seventh wife.
What happens? Success, traction, forward progress. Randy took the risks that a sport defined by risk needed to take. Most succeeded, some failed. You couldn’t expect more. Besides possibly Obama himself, did anyone seriously think Obama was going to be able to fix the nuclear IED that previous administrations detonated on our economy in just four years? Hell no. These things take time, but for the first time I can remember IndyCar/IRL/CART/Champ Car had someone with vision (that’s a lower case V there, TG), energy, competency and a willingness to take risks.
IndyCar finally starts getting some respect back in the business world. They have a guy that can put deals together, that will fly to Bishkek to get a deal done and who’s open to all kinds of crazy ideas. Oh, and the fans love his ass. He’s real, approachable, responsive, and tireless. For once, the guy in charge of open wheel racing in America doesn’t resemble one of the Duke Brothers from Trading Places. Unfortunately everybody he’s surrounded by does.
Instead of the loyalty bordering on worship that he deserves, the knives come out. “Et tu Tony?”
That’s why I’m mad as hell. For tarnishing the dream. Again. For all the drivers who didn’t make it, for those that did, those still trying, and for those that died trying, I think it’s despicable to take any enterprise that people are willing to risk their lives for and make a mockery out of it. The reason doesn’t matter. Serial incompetence, personal gain, some twisted sense of birthright, whatever. It’s all venal and reprehensible.
How the hell did these people ever get to be the stewards of the dream?
It’s the dream that compels every IndyCar driver, and everyone who ever tried to be one, in the face of overwhelming odds.
In baseball they offer the facetious compliment to a player’s commitment by saying that “He’d probably still play the game even if he weren’t getting paid.”
In IndyCar, they actually do that sometimes.
I wonder how many players MLB would have if they didn’t get paid and had a statistically significant mortality risk.
The racing dream is all consuming. To race, people have lost fortunes, left wives, robbed banks, run Ponzi schemes, and in the case of nearly a whole racing series in the 80’s, smuggled drugs. That’s the dark side.
The thing is that I can’t think of a job, save perhaps Astronaut, that is a tougher goal to achieve than being an IndyCar or F1 driver on merit.
Am I suggesting that every driver on the circuit wanted to retain Randy Bernard? No. But you can be damn sure not one of them wanted their dreams managed like this.
Going to one further degree of separation, think about the hundreds of father and sons and daughters out there karting, dreaming about Indy. They call it the Road to Indy, but I can’t help wondering what’s going to be left at the end of that road when they get there.
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