May 24, 2008

Is This the Last Indy 500?

On the eve of the "Greatest Day of Motorsports," it's relevant to stop and assess the health of the three racing organizations. NASCAR is booming, experiencing a growth in fan base both overwhelming and unexpected. Once a redneck hobby, NASCAR now has major media coverage for the minor-league (Nationwide and Craftsman Truck) series as well as the big boys. Corporate sponsorship and driver recognition is off the charts. F1 has been the top racing league in Europe and most of the rest of the world for quite some time, and nothing appears ready to change about that. To keep things interesting, McLaren and Ferrari have four young drivers who could establish a decade-long rivalry of the highest caliber (Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen). IRL/CART, on the other hand, is struggling.

Helio is better known for this trophy than drinking the milk twice.

One big part of a series' competitive value is the casual fan's ability to recognize drivers and for good drivers to want to join a series. The past two Indy 500 winners are no longer with the series, along with two others. Helio Castroneves, probably the most identifiable driver without breasts and winner of 2 Indy 500's, is publicly considering going to NASCAR to join the other four. To make matters worse, the best standing of any of the 4 who joined NASCAR is 34th, two spots away from having to qualify on time for each race. Sam Hornish Jr. is only in that position because he was given Kurt Busch's points from last year to make sure he made the first five races. None of the rest are better than 40th, and Jacques Villeneuve hasn't even run a race. Yet Helio's still considering switching?

The most successful driver to have switched over is Juan Pablo Montoya. However, he's much better than the other open-wheelers. He dominated in his brief time with IRL/CART, setting rookie records and winning the Indy 500. Then he spent some years in F1, doing an outstanding job for a team other than Ferrari. He's in a class above the rest of these guys and it shows.

Who's that with Danica?

IRL might as well stand for Inferior Racing League. As a casual racing fan, I have not stumbled across a single televised IRL race this year, but I've seen 3 or 4 Nationwide series races. I haven't heard anything about drivers switching to IRL from F1 or NASCAR. Honestly, the only interesting thing about the Indy 500 this year is the tradition. Danica's not good enough to turn heads, and the younger Andretti and Foyt have a long way to go to fill their elders' shoes. Most sports fans couldn't name a single driver other than Danica and Helio. Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and the rest could be great drivers, but no one knows them. I wouldn't recognize them on the street.

The merger of IRL and CART has the potential to bring open-wheel racing back to prominence in the US, but it has a long, long way to come. If things don't turn around soon, IRL may be equivalent to ARCA and the other lower-tier racing circuits, and they won't be able to afford the Brickyard.

7 Responses:

big tuna said...

This post was just an excuse to put up a picture of Julianne Hough. Well played. Best post of the week.

J-Red said...

I posted actual girl next door boobs this week!

Brien said...

Russell, Alonso doesn't drive for McLaren anymore. He's back with Renault. Kovalainen is the junior McLaren driver. But you're right, there's a lot of great young talent in F1 (including Robert Kubica of BMW).

J-Red said...

Is it good that this New Zealander Dixon won today? What hope is there for the IRL/CART merged series becoming popular internationally?

T.C. said...

The Indy 500 isn't going anywhere, but an interesting post just the same. The IRL definitely has a lot of work to do to come anywhere close to where open wheel racing was years ago.

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