Thursday, July 27, 2006

Open-wheel racing retains Danica Patrick, but there's still work to do

I hope the folks who run open-wheel racing in this country don’t really believe that anything that’s happened in the past few weeks means they’ve turned the corner in getting their part of the sport back to any significant level of national relevance.
That’s not to say the news hasn’t been good lately for those guys. Danica Patrick’s announcement this week that she’ll move to Andretti Green Racing but stay in the IndyCar Series after her contract with the Rahal-Letterman team runs out at the end of this season had to bring a collective sigh of relief from the IRL brass.
Patrick, like it or not, is The Franchise in open-wheel right now. I know she hasn’t won even one race, but if she’d decided to come to NASCAR to try to do that it would have been a public relations blow that the IRL might not have been able to survive.
There never really seemed to be a whole lot of chance that was going to happen, of course.
Patrick’s purposely public flirtation with stock cars was a transparent bluff aimed at raising the stakes on a new deal in IndyCars, but sometimes in poker even when you know someone is bluffing you can’t afford to call.
Patrick is smart enough to understand that at some point she has to win, and by joining AGR she has at least given herself the chance to do that.
It appears that her teammates next year will be Tony Kanaan, who won the most recent IRL event, and Marco Andretti, a third-generation driver whose runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 this year also gave open-wheel racing a boost. While the teams owned by Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi have dominated in the IndyCar Series so far this year, AGR is competitive enough that Patrick should at least go into every race next year knowing she can at least hope to keep up.
Patrick’s decision to keep trying to win IndyCar races and, in specific, the Indianapolis 500, sustains some of the momentum that open-wheel racing got out of Sam Hornish’s dramatic victory over Andretti at Indianapolis in May.
Like Patrick and Andretti, Hornish is another exceptionally talented American driver who needs to be part of the long-term growth in that discipline. So, too, is A.J. Allmendinger, the 24-year-old Californian who won three straight races after switching to a new team in the Champ Car World Series.
No sport in this country will ever flourish for any period of time without American-born stars.
That might not be the way some folks think it ought to be, but that doesn’t change the fact that’s how it is.
So all that has happened this summer amounts to a nice move in the right direction for open-wheel racing in the U.S. But the primary flaw in its ultimate revival still must be addressed.
As long as Patrick, Hornish and Andretti race in one series and Allmendinger competes in another, nothing is really repaired.
Open-wheel racing in America is fundamentally flawed as long as the IRL and ChampCar insist on living separate lives. It’s like a house with a faulty foundation. It doesn’t matter how nice the paint job is or how beautifully the yard is landscaped, you still have to fix the real problem.


Monkeesfan said...

Patrick has given herself a chance to win by joining Andretti-Green Racing? Everyone seems to forget that when she joined Rahal Racing it was a winning outfit fresh off victory at the 500; she joined and she dragged it down in her two years there. Why should anyone expect her to improve as a racer with Andretti-Green?

The simple fact is that Danica Patrick got breaks to this level by being a woman; she adds nothing as a racer anywhere.

The flaw in open wheel racing right now is that Champ Car still thinks it is a viable series. IRL gets blamed for the split in open wheel but the reality is that the old CART series created the split in 1979 and ran Indycar racing for the enrichment of its one or two biggest team owners to the detriment of the rest of the sport. There wasn't much choice but to break away and form IRL.

Paul William Tenny said...

You do realize that removing the Blogger navbar is a violation of the Blogger terms of service, right?

Anonymous said...

Danica's anticipated first win keeps the IRL exciting!Her move to AG is a positive. If IRL and Champ would kiss and make up, open wheel would's hard for the average race fan to serve two masters....and somebody please tell Rusty Wallace to stop calling the cars "hot rods"!

Monkeesfan said...

chip guberalski -

What "anticipated first win?" It is the racing, not a fraud sex-model in one of Rahal Racing's racecars, that makes IRL interesting.

ChampCar needs to stop fighting IRL and just go away, and NASCAR needs to start cooperating with IRL to make it, and overall racing, better.

Anonymous said...

Poole is basically of right. But Danica is just the latest side-show, she has no importance in the overall scheme of any racing series (though I do agree with Robby Gordon that the weight advanatge that the IRL rules -- minimum weight only applies to car, not car + driver, is basically an affirmative action for small females, is correct. Even F1, as corrupt as it is, corrected this long-term glaring foolishness and unfairness a while back.)

But to correct a misconception: the root of the American open wheel racing disarray go back to the period post-1955 LeMans crash when USAC was formed to replace AAA, who got out of motor racing to focus on the distributing maps and such. Here was USAC, a wholly-formed and owned subsidiary (of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, geez they are both at the corner of 16th and Georgetown across the street from each other, what a coincidence!), who ran the premier series (Gold Cup) for the benefit of IMS management (= Hulman family) and made the whole deal revolve around the Indy 500. Stock car types -- imagine what would have happened had Bill France done the same with NASCAR for his Daytona 500? It would have created a NASCAR train wreck perhaps similar to the open wheel wreck we have experiencing today. (BTW, gloat if you wish, but watch the next gen France family try this on as greed for more money and power, as opposed to racers going racing, sews the same seeds for the same problem in stock cars -- wait for it -- you heard it here first!). Back to open wheel----

CART was formed in the 1970's as perhaps the only rational response by teams and other interested parties to preserve and grow open wheel racing in the USA in its premier series. Oh did this stick in the craw of the Hulman family who felt that Indy 500 = open wheel racing = them and this was situation not to be tolerated longer than necessary.

And so in order to fund the challenge to CART, IMS needed more cash, so made alliances with outlanders by bringing NASCAR and F1 to the Brickyard, and now we have IRL.

IRL is not a bad spec series, I think it is better and more sensible than, say, F1. (ALL of us should be eternally grateful to the racing Gods for American racing not going to a team or constructors championship that has fully hosed and entrapped F1 in about the most bizarro world that could be created. Pray that the powers that be here do not succumb to this as it will have the same corrosive effect). But remeber: CART had a perfectly fine formula, too, before they came under the direct assault of IMS.

Well, Champ Car has lost, basically when Penske bolted that was it. BUT all the underlying problems that led to the creation of CART all here and they are worse. Champ car can dry up and blow away tomorrow and guess, what? It won't make any difference.

Prescription: enjoy the racing while it is here today as it is. IRL has the best show now in motor racing (the 2006 Indy 500 was probably the finest motor race in the history of the world, and not just because of the dramatic end), but they are sure to corrupt it given the track record of the folks in charge.

There is no long term solution.

Monkeesfan said...

The greatest misconception remains that CART was formed for the good of American open wheel racing. CART was formed strictly for the benefit of a few rich team owners in Indycar racing. Say what you will about USAC, but their rules packages were for racing, not for the specific benefit of one or two teams as was always the case in CART - between the running battle by Andy Kenopensky against CART and the self-serving Honda Rule of the early 1990s, CART never put racing's good above that of the two team owners who ran it.

IRL has certainly made mistakes, the biggest being allowing Honda and Toyota in and not controlling them once they were in. Everyone in IRL had visions of 33-car fields every week with Honda and Toyota involvement, but that fantasy disintegrated right away, and too late IRL let Cosworth upgrade Chevy's Indy engine so Panther Racing could race with the Hondas and Toyotas.

Overall, though, IRL is much better a racing series than CART ever was and than ChampCar ever can be - Paul "Captain Crunch" Tracy swerving into another car's path and then trying to blame the ensuing wreck on the other car is not just typical Tracy but typical CART.

Kevin Kalkhoven's attempted merger with IRL got considerable ink, but few noticed that it was a stacked deal to benefit ChampCar only, and Tony George refused to bite.

Right now there seems no long term solution, but if NASCAR would snap out of its own greed-mongering and start cooperating with open wheel racing, there could be a solution found.