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DATE News (chronologically)
05/24/10
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Times have changed at Indy
It wasn’t that long ago that Americans dominated the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indy 500.

However, times have changed, and not for the best.

In the past decade, only Buddy Rice (2004) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2006) have had a drink from the milk bottle and lifted the Borg-Warner trophy.

Since the inaugural Indy 500, which was won by American Ray Harroun in 1911, Americans had a stranglehold on the Indy 500 championship, claiming 60-plus crowns. And then 1989 hit, and Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi drove his car to the Winner’s Circle. Since then, 13 winners have come from foreign soil.Why that is depends on who you ask.

Die-hard fans will look back to the IRL split, or the fact that Versus, which is seen more outside the United States, broadcasts the majority of races.

Others point to the economy, while there are a few who point to the success American drivers have had in NASCAR and question why a driver should waste their time in open-wheel racing.

And it’s hard to argue against those people, who point to NASCAR, when you consider one of the most popular drivers of all time, Danica Patrick, has all but mentally checked out and is counting down the days until she drives full time in NASCAR. And while Hornish Jr. has made more of a name for himself for creating wrecks than leading laps, he has experienced mixed results in NASCAR.

Regardless of what the reason, it is time for the IndyCar Series and CEO Randy Bernard to make a serious change and start trying to attract American drivers.

Bernard is taking the first step with the Road to Indy developmental initiative, which has a goal of spurring aspiring drivers to follow a defined path through open-wheel racing, culminating with an appearance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That’s great, but could it be too little, too late for Americans in the IndyCar Series?

It’s hard to believe America’s best days in open-wheel racing could be a thing of the past, but it sure appears that way.

Consider that at one point this season, only three Americans were racing: Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Patrick. Talented drivers such as Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter are hopeful their performances at Indy will help them land full-time status the remainder of the season.

Think about that for a moment.

Hunter-Reay picked up a victory already this season, and Rahal experienced success last season, as did Carpenter, who posted a career-best second-place finish at Kentucky Speedway.

And these guys don’t even have full-time rides.

Could you imagine something like this happening in any other professional sport?

Seriously, could you imagine Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon or any other top NASCAR driver racing only one race a year?

And while the Indy 500 is the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the fact that several American drivers build their season around this one race and not by choice is sad.

According to Indy native and IndyCar Series journeyman Ed Carpenter, things need to change in order for more Americans to have a chance.

“It is unfortunate that myself and Graham and others are not full time. There is plenty of talent out there when it comes to American drivers, but it’s about getting an opportunity,” Carpenter said.

IndyCar Series driver and owner Sarah Fisher knows about having and giving an opportunity.

“The IZOD IndyCar Series is doing their part to try and formulate the best ladder system that will make it much simpler of a format for American drivers to come along,” Fisher said.

American Townsend Bell knows a little about being successful, finishing fourth in last year’s Indy 500.

“I’m not looking for an IndyCar series that is predisposed to anything except the fastest drivers, the best guys available. I’d love it if the best guys out there were American as well, of course. That helps our fan base,” Bell said.

It wasn’t that long ago that the names Andretti, Foyt, Mears and Rahal were household names.

Today, it’s the likes of Castroneves (understandably so), Wheldon and Kanaan (again, deservedly so) that fans relate to.

So, what is the answer?

“We need to grow the sport so domestic sponsors will get involved,” Carpenter said.

Unfortunately, the days of Mears winning four Indy 500 titles and Foyt’s titles are quickly becoming a thing of the distant past.

The same can be said of America’s dominance in the IndyCar Series. shelbynews.com

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