IRL can’t survive a Danica defection

UPDATE A reader writes, Dear, I don't agree with the Indy Star article on Danica sinking open wheel racing. Her entire career she's won ONE race!!!!!!!!! This includes feeder series. You go to her website, and it looks more like she's selling her body. Racing takes a back seat to her "personal agenda", whatever that might be. Granted, she is running better each year—-but come on—the schedule and the length of races in NASCAR—she'll need a relief driver in practice for god sakes!!!! Get the new car for the IRL out earlier—more HP, more American drivers, better TV package—you'll see the series take off again. Pat Kleibor/Franklin Wisconsin

Dear Pat, We said a long time ago that the best athletes/drivers of any sport should be the heroes. Putting her front and center and making her the series superstar will come back to haunt the IRL when Danica leaves. Mark C.

09/09/09 When Danica Patrick makes the full-time leap to NASCAR — and she will be a stock-car regular no later than 2012 — where will that leave the IndyCar Series?


As opposed to next to nowhere, which is where it currently resides in the American sports consciousness.

Patrick's eventual defection to NASCAR won't kill the sport, but it will deal the open-wheel types a painful and possibly even fatal blow. The folks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway don't want to hear this, but without Patrick — their one and only marquee talent and celebrity — IndyCar is as insignificant as celebrity billiards.

Even now, with Patrick competing full time and producing her best season in this series, almost nobody is paying attention. There are three drivers vying for the points title with two races remaining (Motegi and Homestead), and America couldn't care a whit about any of the three.

Nothing personal against three nice guys and accomplished drivers, but outside of the gearhead population, who can tell the difference between Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon? Which one's the Aussie and which one's the Kiwi? Scotsman Dario Franchitti, the third driver in the mix, is married to Ashley Judd, which is interesting for about 10 minutes — unless, of course, you're married to Ashley Judd, and then it's interesting for far longer.

It doesn't matter if the IndyCar Series does ovals, road courses, street courses or competes on the moon, without personalities, without compelling stories that engage fans, it is doomed to eternal status as a micro-niche sport. They could put push-to-pass buttons or rocket boosters on the backs of those cars, but without personalities like Patrick, casual fans won't pay attention.

Patrick's exit will put the brakes on all the momentum the series gained when unification with Champ Car finally happened. This is even worse than the PGA Tour losing Tiger Woods, or Roger Federer retiring from tennis. Those sports have other marketable commodities; the IndyCar Series has, um, well . . . never mind.

Without Danica, the IndyCar Series has nothing, and nobody, to sell. Marco Andretti has a great name and pedigree, but he hasn't won much of anything. Graham Rahal also has the name and pedigree and is an unquestioned talent, but to this point, he hasn't been a podium regular. If the series is fortunate, one of those two young men will emerge by the time Patrick departs. But even then, they can't begin to demand the attention Patrick brings to the sport.

The word of Danica's eventual exit comes at a time when the series' leadership is in flux and the economy is in tatters. How do you sell a Patrick-less IndyCar Series?

There is still no title sponsor. More at Indy Star

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