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DATE News (chronologically)
04/13/10
irl
Indy 500 contrived pole position rules panned  A sport needs to be exciting on its own merits to truly be a long-term profit-making business prospect. That’s why the NFL is so successful. Yes, league officials occasionally tweak the rules, but more out of fairness and competitive balance than just as a way to drum up fan fervor.

NFL games are exciting because you get to see some of the biggest men on the face of the planet running at break-neck speeds often on a collision course. That’s the nature of the game and it sells.

That brings us to the IndyCar Series. It’s no secret that the open-wheel series is doing everything it can to catch peoples’ attention. I would say they’re trying to draw fans’ attention, but series officials’ efforts are much broader.

I applaud those efforts, but they’re walking a fine line. IndyCar racing needs more fans to survive long-term. But I’m not sure that inventing new qualifications rules for the Indianapolis 500—or any other race—is the answer.

Not even the drivers know what to make of it, as is evident from Helio Castroneves’ comments at Sunday’s race in Alabama.

The crux of the change is this: The fastest nine cars in traditional pole day qualifying will advance to a 90-minute end-of-day session during which the drivers will take shots at the pole (and special cash and prizes).

It feels a little like Let’s Make a Deal.

Here’s the real deal. Either IndyCar Series officials learn to sell their sport (to fans and sponsors) or they don’t. They learn to promote their drivers or not. Danica Patrick either learns to navigate a road course or becomes as irrelevant in this reincarnated open-wheel series as Milka Duno.

And at the end of the day, the series needs to get itself back to what made it rock and roll in the 1960s through the 1980s—if they can ever put its finger on just exactly what that was.

The series should emphasize speed, handling, pit crew skills and all the things that have made this sport popular with past masses.

Will people come back in the numbers they did when A.J., Mario and Mears made them stand on their feet? I don’t think anyone knows.

But the core product remains racing around a track as fast as possible and the personalities that pilot these four-wheeled rocket ships. Emphasis on cutting-edge cars and other technology might also be a novel idea. That sort of thing really appeals to people interested in watching cars go fast.

Trying to sell people made-for-TV rules and trumped up drama—especially when you’re talking about something with the historical significance of the Indianapolis 500—makes it look like desperation time for the IndyCar Series.

But then again, maybe it is.

Or Maybe this new qualifications format means series officials have their fingers on the pulse of what sports fans want, and this will restore May to what it once was. IBJ.com

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