The din of race cars made casual conversation nearly impossible. Within the motor coach lot at Homestead-Miami Speedway reserved for drivers and Indy Racing League officials, Mari Hulman George sat at a picnic table on a Friday afternoon, in the shade from a canopy attached to son Tony's rolling residence.
Audible above the drone, the matriarch of the family that has owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1945 clapped and cheered toward a television tucked in a compartment under the coach. She nervously scrawled notes on a pad.
The IRL's IndyCars weren't on the track. This was Grand-Am practice and there were no video feeds. So what on the screen could so enrapt the woman most recognizable for saying "start your engines," at open-wheel racing's most storied event, the Indianapolis 500?
"He's fifth right now," she smiled to a well-wisher.
During a momentary lull in race traffic, the familiar but out-of-place drawl of a NASCAR broadcast team came clear, describing Busch Series qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hulman George could be forgiven suspending her loyalties for her grandson, Kyle Krisiloff, who at 21 is trying to build a NASCAR career. But another point was made. On the first weekend of the IndyCar season, NASCAR remained omnipresent.
The question is open: Can open-wheel racing can regain the toehold it held nationally until the early 1990s, either in its current fractured state – with IRL and Champ Car competing – or potentially reunited? Those who have toiled in the obscurity of NASCAR's long shadow would very much like see the sun again. The IRL possesses a timely commitment to 100 percent ethanol fuel, a diversity in drivers and ownership that NASCAR covets, and the quiet hope that all trends – including NASCAR's explosive growth – are cyclical. Open-wheel racing's leaders may be in the best position in years to seize back some of its legacy. More at SPTimes.com