Wanted: American heroes UPDATE A reader writes, How about Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Joey Hand, and Rocky Moran Jr.....all of them paid their dues in Atlantic and Barber Dodge; Fogarty, Hunter-Reay, and Moran Jr were multiple race winners in each series. Most of them have found work elsewhere, but I bet they would jump at the chance to drive in Champ Car. The series would benefit hugely with the addition of a couple of these guys. Maybe it's time to give Legge a rest and plug in someone else. Sooner or later Champ Car has to address this deficit in their package...The American audience is just not connecting to the foreign drivers. Name Withheld by Request
07/17/07 Champ Car is a world series, but its financial lifeblood flows in and out of the United States. And there is no denying the series suffers at the gate and on television down south because, quite frankly, American racing fans couldn't pick wildly successful Sebastien Bourdais, a Frenchman, out of a police lineup.
Dutch rookie Robert Doornbos leads the points race and he's virtually anonymous. Neel Jani of Switzerland? Please. Australia's Will Power? Great name, but no profile. When we go to Canada, we always get huge crowds; that's because they're real fans there," said outspoken Graham Rahal, one of only two American drivers in the series this year.
"In the States all they're interested in is personalities. They don't really care about watching, no offence to Sebastien, they don't really care about watching Sebastien. That has no interest to a lot of these people.
"I'd like to help this series grow. I've always been an open-wheel guy and I've always been a Champ Car fan because I love the road racing. At the same time, one guy can't do it. This series needs to get names here and they need to promote it and they need to work better at that."
Champ Car president Steve Johnson said the issue is already being tackled.
"We have a great list of guys who can step up, all have personalities and it's up to us to assist in building them into stars. That's one of our key initiatives, to make these guys household names. We need to promote them, show more than racing, focus on lifestyle and expose their personalities. That's how you build stars. It's top on our list."
American race fans want to wave the flag like they did back in the CART days, when they could spot A.J. Foyt a mile away, when Graham's dad Bobby and Rick Mears and Al Unser duked it out all over the U.S.
At the top of their list is cheering on more of their own.
"I think the series needs to bank on that," said Graham Rahal. "The life of this series banks on that."
The last American driver to do anything of real note in this series was another A.J., Allmendinger. After toiling in obscurity for RuSPORT, he jumped into a Forsythe Championship Racing seat and won three races in a row last year.
He finished the season with five victories and 285 points to rank third, behind the winner Bourdais and England's Justin Wilson. And then Champ Car saw only his tail lights as he beetled off to NASCAR.
Rahal, an 18-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, is a graduate of Atlantics, the official Champ Car feeder series. He and Alex Figge, 26, of Davenport, Iowa, carry the Stars and Stripes into Edmonton for Sunday's Grand Prix. It's the third straight Canadian event after stops in Mont Tremblant, Que., and Toronto.
"A.J. just started to do well here but A.J. didn't have the name either," continued Rahal. "I think a lot of people bank on me being successful because of my name. At the same time, a lot of people need to realize my ultimate goal is not Champ Car. The ultimate goal is Formula One, so they can't bank on me being here forever."
Nor, he says, should the series be pinning too many hopes on Canadian Paul Tracy, whom Rahal considers the next best thing to an American.
"... the American people can relate to Paul because Paul is a personality and Paul is a little bit crazy. The problem is, Paul is kind of on his way out, so to speak. I would think he'd have to retire within the next couple of years. ... There needs to be someone else."
And ideally it should be an American. Figge said another year or two of Champ Car stability and growth, as well as an expansion of its television presence, will attract American corporations willing to sponsor U.S.-born drivers. But this is a problem that will take time and money to solve. Of the 31 drivers listed in the Atlantic standings, 15 are American, just five are Canadian. But two of those Canucks are in the top five and four Americans dot the top 10, so the next wave should be on the way. -- Edmonton Journal
[Editor's Note: Champ Car had budding American heroes in AJ Allmendinger (who was beating even Bourdais regularly last year) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (who won immediately in Champ Car and was the face of Champ Car all over the world) and they simply let them get away. Every time the IRL or Champ Car begin to develop an American hero they will be plucked away by NASCAR or some other series that pays good money to drivers, be it Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr. or AJ Allmendinger.]