Editorial

Open Wheel Racing needs win by OWRS - Part 2
The alternative would be a disaster

 by Mark Cipolloni and Steven N. Levinson
January 26, 2004

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Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles that explain why, if Open Wheel Racing is to survive and prosper long-term, that Open Wheel Racing Series, LLC (OWRS) must prevail in their bid to buy the necessary CART assets to continue the Champ Car Series.  Part 1 by Jim Allen explained why the IRL is failing and why, if they were to win on Wednesday, it will do nothing to strengthen the sport.  The CART fan's loyalty is not transferable to the IRL.  Part 2 explains why IRL controlling Open Wheel Racing will lead to the eventual extinction of the sport altogether.

We have heard all of the arguments for unification of Open Wheel Racing in America.  At one time, we shared that view. However, most recently, it has become clear that IRL control of open wheel racing would be the worst possible outcome.  We say that for the following reasons.


The myth that unification will restore Open Wheel's past glory - We have heard this argument from Tony George, Roger Penske and Michael Andretti.  What they fail to comprehend is the absolute contempt that CART fans hold for each of these self aggrandizing individuals.  Most CART fans believe that road racing is the absolute test of a driver's ability and history has shown that to be totally true. While appreciative of a few oval races that add diversity to the calendar, they do not want to see dumbed down, rev-limited, managed oval racing on a week-to-week basis.

NASCAR, during the protracted CART/IRL war (1995 to present), has monopolized the oval track racing market. To think that an Open Wheel Series can prosper, by going head-to-head in the same market with NASCAR, is sheer folly.  Why would sponsors want to pay for advertising exposure in redundant markets when NASCAR gives them a bigger bang for the buck?

Lies, lies, and more lies - Despite the revisionist history that has recently been put out by the IRL propaganda machine, the basic premises of the IRL was American drivers in American cars on American ovals.  Tony George was outraged when Jeff Gordon was not given an opportunity by the CART owners.  When Gordon went to NASCAR, George founded the IRL, to never let this happen again.  However, we have seen a continuous exodus to NASCAR by former short track oval stars like Tony Stewart, Kenny Irwin, Ryan Newman, and now triple USAC champion JJ Yeley and Kasey Kahne. 

Meanwhile, USAC open wheelers continue to wear their "Road to Indy" hats.  This is truly sad because they have no chance in the IRL against the onslaught of road course trained drivers from CART and various European series.  This has not gone over well with the original Indy-centric fans and former IRL stalwart car owners such as Fred Treadway, Ron Hemelgarn and Jonathan Byrd.

Tony George said he wanted to start the IRL to have assurances there would be enough cars to fill the Indy 500 field.  In 2003 the IRL didn't even have enough cars to have a Bump Day.  That was never a problem in the CART days.

The myth of the IRL business plan -  While we have not been privy to the IRL Business Plan, common sense tells you that racing Open Wheel cars on concrete walled ovals is absolutely absurd. Not only are we seeing an unconscionable number of serious bone breaking injuries, but the series produced approximately $13 million of damaged cars in one year (2003). We don't care if the IRL has a gold plated business plan, because no amount of blind vision or business plan will save this ill-conceived series.

Without the massive continued infusion of the Hulman George family coffers and the support of Honda and Toyota, the IRL's continued existence is highly suspect. The IRL has been in business for 8 years now and has lost money every single year. Whether you know it or not, we know that Tony George has paid every single purse for those 8 years. This is voodoo economics at its best. Any company losing money for 8 straight years would be bankrupt by now. When Honda and Toyota pull out for the greener pastures of NASCAR, the IRL will go into the trash bin of history. Some business plan, huh?

The myth of stable IRL leadership - There is this myth that only CART has had too many leadership changes.  However, the IRL is just as bad - from Jerry Hauer to Jack Long (with Cary Agajanian) to Leo Mehl to now Tony George, the IRL's leadership has been a revolving door.

The downfall of the Indy 500 - An absolute icon of American sports appears to have been irrevocably damaged under the leadership of Anton Hulman George.  Prior to the inception of the IRL, Indy 500 tickets were nearly impossible to obtain.  On race day, you could obtain tickets from ticket brokers and scalpers at a minimum of double face value.  From 1996 onward, the ticket brokers and scalpers can't give them away.  Sadly, last year veteran observers of the Speedway reported about 15,000 empty seats as well as noting that tickets can be obtained on Georgetown Road for as low as $5 or $10 on race morning.

The TV ratings plummeted from a high under CART of 12.9 in 1984 (and 9.2/31 share in 1992) to last year's 4.6/14 share under the IRL.  A drop of over 64%.  Since the IRL was formed it's been all downhill.

Do you seriously call this leadership?  If Tony George was the head of a Fortune 500 company he would have been fired.  Quite frankly, we are outraged.

Severe blow to road racing in USA  - 1) What will happen to the road racing support series?  They will die off with no top-level Open Wheel road racing series.  Curiously, this is where the latest IRL poster boy, Sam Hornish, was trained.  2) Where will Americans learn how to drive?  Road racing has proven to be the best training ground for young Americans, from karting up to Champ Cars. The 6-step ladder is all road racing based.    3) Without a proper road racing ladder system in America, there is no possible hope for Americans to compete on the world stage, because the rest of the world is exclusively road racing and our oval track drivers will be clearly outgunned.   Because of this, Mario Andretti and Phil Hill will be the only World Driving Champions that America ever produced.

The high cost of oval track racing -  We have pounded on this issue time and time again.  We are seeing an unconscionable number of serious bone breaking injuries.  We refer you to this article (There's more than handwriting on the wall, and here are the concrete facts), which lays out the grim facts of all the injuries to drivers in the IRL compared to CART since the IRL's inception.  Since 1996, of the 235 race weekends, 86 were IRL races and 149 were CART races, or 37% IRL and 63% CART.  Although CART had many more races, the number of injuries in the IRL were 127 to just 48 for CART.  In other words, the IRL had only 37% of the events, but 73% of the injuries.  That equates to an average of 1.443 injuries per race weekend for the IRL and 0.322 injuries per race for CART.  The data indicates, you are 448% more likely to get injured during an IRL race weekend than a CART race weekend.

Another IRL myth is that they have reduced the cost of racing.  How so?  Last year alone they racked up approximately $13 million in car damage.  Participation in the IRL is far more expensive than CART.  If the IRL was as cheap as the mythology suggested, then what happened to Jonathan Byrd, Fred Treadway, and Ron Hemelgarn?  Even millionaire John Menard was unable to continue with his own separate team in this mythological low-cost series.  Almost every accident results in expensive car destruction against hard concrete walls, the SAFER Barrier included. 

IRL's 4 road races - what about the other 14? - The IRL is part of the Oval Track Cartel.  They will never run more than 4 or 5 road courses a year.  That would go against the Cartel's business plan and would certainly upset the France family, their oval track mentor and partner.  Imagine the loss of jobs and the severe blow to the local economies of the other 14 CART venues that will have no place on the IRL calendar.  Not only that, there will be a huge loss of jobs in the CART paddock.

Cost for CART teams to buy all new equipment to race in IRL - The existing Champ Car teams have a lot invested in Champ Car equipment, which will be useless if they have to buy new equipment to go racing in the IRL.  Who is going to pay for all those cars?

Summary - We find it curious that at this late stage in the game, Tony George is talking about unification of Open Wheel racing in the USA.  It doesn't take a cynic to question his motives.  CART has tried for a reconciliation for at least five years.  First it was Barry Green and Bobby Rahal.  Then it was Roger Penske and then Chris Pook's unreturned phone calls.  Recently it was the Paul Gentilozzi "Tony and I are friends" talk.   There was never any real serious consideration by Tony George for open wheel unification. 

This last minute bid to buy CART's engines and its premier American date, the Long Beach GP, is nothing more than a last minute effort to finally kill CART. Can you imagine the pitiful IRL cars at Long Beach?  We have and it's an abomination. 

Any talk of unification or reconciliation of the fan base, by a man who says "I bring my hammer to work everyday" is delusional.  Placing Open Wheel Racing's future in the hands of the IRL will lead to its eventual extinction.  For these reasons we expect Judge Otte to reject the Tony George bid and in so doing, he will allow the OWRS to perpetuate the great tradition of Champ Car Racing.

The authors can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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