Open-wheel racing in U.S. continues its fade
As a backward way of beginning a review of the 2007 motorsports season, I'd like to say this should be the second “golden era” of IndyCar racing.
The first came during the 1980s when fields were packed with legends – A.J. Foyt; Mario Andretti along with son Michael; Rick Mears; the Al Unsers, Sr. and Jr.; Johnny Rutherford, and Gordon Johncock . . . just to name a few.
It should almost be that way again today.
IndyCar fields could include drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Sebastien Bourdais, Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, Tony Kanaan and Kasey Kahne.
But that is clearly not the case.
The ongoing – and unbelievably stupid – death struggle between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series combined with the rising (but noticeably slowing) popularity of NASCAR has turned American open-wheel racing into a footnote.
Yes, Jimmie Johnson's 10 wins and run to a second straight NASCAR Nextel Cup title is seen by many as the biggest story in motorsports this season.
In this corner, however, Johnson is the No. 2 story to the continuing exodus of open-wheel drivers to NASCAR.
Montoya's immediate impact with sponsors and fans of stock car racing seemed to grease the wheels. When A.J. Allmendinger made the same leap last year, it didn't make headlines.
But late this season, 2007 Indy 500 winner and IRL champion Franchitti, two-time IRL champion and former Indy 500 champion Hornish and former IndyCar and Formula One champion Villeneuve all jumped to NASCAR.
Plus, four-time Champ Car champion Bourdais headed for Europe and a late-career run at Formula One while Wheldon also talked about a possible future in stock cars.
Will the last competent driver in American open-wheel racing please turn out the lights?
As 2008 approaches, I can't remember a time when American open-wheel racing had fewer drivers whom I feel compelled to watch. SignonSanDiego.com