On Memorial Day weekend a United States tradition will celebrate its hundredth anniversary when they drop the green flag on the Indianapolis 500 Sweepstakes, better known simply as the “Indy 500.” And, while I’m sure the event will be celebrated then, up to now it has generated virtually no fanfare at all. Given the fact that Indy is one of the true storied franchises in motorsport, one has to wonder why.
The answer, unfortunately, is fairly simple: the folks that run the joint haven’t paid attention to business. Oval track racing in the U.S. is uniquely American, with its roots firmly planted on the mile long fairgrounds horse racing tracks whose history goes back to the middle of the 19th century. Moreover, the cars are front, not rear engined, and while the steering wheel is turned to the left, much of the steering imput comes from one’s right foot which plays the throttle like a mechanized musical instrument.
Indy, on the other hand, uses modern design machines whose powerplants a bolted to the frame behind the driver, and are only good for paved surfaces. And, as if all of these weren’t bad enough, must of the front runners are not from the “good ole US of A, but foreign lands, where in many cases, English isn’t a “first language.” In short, the trouble with the Indy Car scene is that it is totally out of touch with its core audience.
But, this is a sportscar blog, so why care? The answer is likewise simple: The ACO, the erstwhile overseer of our favorite segment of the sport, similarly seems intent on disregarding its audience with its intention to devote more of its energies to developing new automotive technologies rather than to providing a product that is entertaining. Ask almost anyone in the automotive industry, and they will tell you that such development comes almost exclusively from testing not from racing. As one insider, whose fortunes have long been intertwined with motorsport, put it: “We put are most promising people in racing, not so much to learn from their efforts, but to teach them how to think under pressure.”
Perhaps, at my advanced age, my own thinking may be way out of date in this politically correct world, but I firmly believe that racing should be simple: i.e. the guy you can go the fastest the longest gets to win. And if per chance he happens to have a better machine underneath him, then, instead of hobbling his efforts through a series of complicated rules so complex that that only a lawyer can make sense out of them, the opposition should be encouraged to catch up through their own efforts. Having read the ACO’s communiqué about how and why it’s adjusting its newly installed 2011 regulations for next month’s 24 Hours is, at its most generous, ridiculous.
In an age of computers, if one can’t predict what rules will produce what performance, then one ought not to be charged with writing them in the first place. Clearly, since the ACO has been working on its scriptures for some time now, they should have gotten their sums straight before putting them down in the little books they send out to the participants
What fans want, at least on my side of the Atlantic, is to see the best succeed, not to have them crippled so the others can catch up, and perhaps beat them at the finish. Unfortunately, this second path appears to be the preferred one these days. However, as I see it, all it does is encourage meritocracy rather than progress. For me, I intend to follow the “KISS” rule of life: keep it simple stupid.
Bill Oursler, May 2011