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DATE News (chronologically)
09/15/11
IRL
Mears says IndyCar on upswing
He lost his desire to drive in 1992, but four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears has never lost his passion for IndyCar racing.

Despite a decade-plus of feuding and fighting, instigated by Tony George with the creation of the Indy Racing League in the mid 1990s, Mears has remained loyal to the sport.

Not many have.

The feud pitting the IRL on one side and CART, which had been the sanctioning body of IndyCar since 1979 on the other, divided teams, sent drivers scurrying to NASCAR, sponsors packing and, perhaps most importantly, turned off fans.

By the time George and the IRL merged with Champ Car (the spinoff of a bankrupt CART) in 2008 the war had been basically lost.

NASCAR had become the King of racing in North America and IndyCar racing was nothing but a side note in most quarters.

It's still that way today.

NASCAR coverage is omnipresent -- on TV, in the newspaper, on the internet and on the radio.

IndyCar not so much.

The lead into NASCAR's 10-race Chase to the championship has been well chronicled, over analyzed and yes, probably over-hyped.

IndyCar also has pretty good race for the championship going on as Will Power has erased a huge deficit over the past three races (finishing fifth, first and first) and trails Dario Franchitti by just five points heading into Sunday's race in Japan. Three races remain to decide that title with the final race set for Las Vegas on Oct. 16.

Good luck finding much in depth news on the IndyCar point race.

"NASCAR has been very strong in past years and has done a great job promoting," concedes Mears, who was raised in Bakersfield and has been a consultant for Penske Racing since his retirement from competition. "But I think right now IndyCar has some good momentum going. I think IndyCar is on an upswing. The racing is the best it's ever been, the competition level is high and there area number of teams that can win on any given day."

And yet, the most prominent face of IndyCar -- Danica Patrick -- is bailing for the greener pastures of NASCAR. Most of the talk generated in mass media this summer was Patrick's saga -- was she or wasn't she going to NASCAR, not on IndyCar race coverage.

"There's other Danicas, other people, other drivers," Mears says. "You just keep moving forward."

Which Mears thinks the sport is doing with new CEO Randy Bernard, new venues and a new chassis/engine package for next season.

"Randy Bernard has done a great job," Mears said. "He's come in with a fresh set of eyes and sees things from different angles. He can think out of the box a little. It's always about improving, just like driving a car."

Honda has been the sole supplier of engines since 2006 and the current chassis has gotten a little long in the tooth. Honda will be a supplier of a new turbocharged engine next year as will Chevrolet and Lotus.

"I definitely think multiple engine manufacturers will be good for the sport," Mears said. "I think it will be good for the racing and it gives the fans more to root for."

And Mears is glad to see the series return to Fontana for the first time since 2005 with a race sept for Sept. 15, 2012 at Auto Club Speedway.

But as how to bring more fans to the races and more to their television sets, Mears said that area is not his forte.

"I don't know, I don't get into that end of it," he said. "I know you have to go about it the same as anything anyone does: look at where you're at, what you're doing, what works, what doesn't and start making changes. That's up Randy and IndyCar. All you can do is keep improving." Bakersfield Californian
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