No. 968
October 17, 2018
 

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Fumes


Monday
Jun292009

FUMES

July 1, 2009

Asleep at the wheel - the IRL stinks it up at Richmond.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo


(Posted 6/29, 10:00am) Detroit.
Memo to the Indy Racing League: Is it really that hard to get your shit together? With NASCAR suffering through severe financial cutbacks from the auto manufacturers and its sponsors - while its TV ratings numbers and fan attendance continue plummeting - you can't figure out how to come up with an interim technical package that would allow your drivers to do something besides play follow the leader on ovals? To the point that one of your own marquee drivers - race-winner Scott Dixon - admitted on camera afterwards that the racing sucked?

In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is goin' on out there!?!?"

Dixon summed it up quite nicely:"It was a bit of a procession, unfortunately. It was very tough to pass because of the track. I think it's just the last couple of years we've slipped into a car that is not enabling a whole lot of passing." Note the key words Dixon uses: "...the last couple of years..."

What's wrong with this picture, folks? We've come to expect the glacier-like pace of change from the wizards in Daytona Beach - after all, they don't just play the "not invented here" game, they play the game of "if we haven't thought of it, it doesn't exist." So you'd think that the powers that be in the IRL would at least take a hint that maybe they ought to get on with this whole "improving the quality of the actual racing" thing and show some leadership for a change. But nooo, instead we get IRL president of competition and racing operations, Brian Barnhart, suggesting that they'll get around to dealing with it in time for the Kentucky race in August.

Not good enough, boys. Just like the phantom new rules package that's yet to be announced for 2011 isn't good enough either. Players inside the IRL Empire may think that progress is being made and that orderly change is under way, but somehow they have missed the public impression that's being left "out there" for racing enthusiasts to digest. And that public impression goes something like this: 1. The Indy Racing League is the Indianapolis 500, a few good road/street races and nothing else. 2. The IRL is actually incapable of putting on a good oval race except for the Indianapolis 500. And 3. The IRL couldn't seize an opportunity to improve their on-track product if their lives depended on it.

In other words, a giant heaping, steaming bowl of Not Good.

The IRL has three road/street course races in a row before Kentucky, but if the powers that be in Indianapolis actually think the stench from Richmond will recede or somehow the fans will kinda-sorta forget about what happened last Saturday night, they will be sadly mistaken. Because that won't happen unless and until the IRL fixes its oval track package once and for all.

It's truly pathetic that I'm even having to write about this issue, as a matter of fact. After all, just how big of a silver platter does the IRL need to be handed in order to recapture some of the interest it lost in the Ten Year War? Formula 1 has not only abandoned the North American market, it has dissolved into a caricature of itself and a punchline to a very bad joke. And NASCAR's big revelation of late to improve their on-track product? Double-file re-starts. Well, halle-frickin-luja, but if that's all they've got then their downward spiral will continue gathering momentum. Yet given those two factors, here's the IRL rumbling, bumbling and stumbling their way to piss-poor mediocrity.

As we like to say around here, you just can't make this stuff up.

Racing fans are clamoring for something, anything that will give them hope that the people involved in this country's major racing series can find a clue - even if they have to be spotted the "cl" and the "e" - and the Indy Racing League has the perfect opportunity to actually raise their profile and make some real progress in the mess that defines racing today.

I'm just not confident anyone down there in Indianapolis "gets it" enough to actually understand what needs to be done.

 

Publisher's Note: Late today (6/30) the Board of Directors of Hulman & Company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that Tony George would no longer be president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, saying, "Our board had asked Tony to structure our executive staff to create efficiencies in our business structure and to concentrate his leadership efforts in the Indy Racing League,” said Mari Hulman George, IMS chairman of the board. “He has decided that with the recent unification of open-wheel racing and the experienced management team IMS has cultivated over the years, now would be the time for him to concentrate on his team ownership of Vision Racing with his family and other personal business interests he and his family share. Tony will remain on the Board of Directors of all of our companies, and he will continue to work with the entire board to advance the interests of all of companies. Our family and the entire racing community are grateful to Tony for the leadership and direction he has provided since 1990. We are pleased that he will continue to be an important part of the Indy Racing League as a team owner and as a member of our Board of Directors, and we wish him every success.” In other words, Robin Miller had it right right all along. George will be replaced as president and CEO of the IMS by Jeff Belskus, who was executive vice president and chief financial officer for the companies. (Curt Brighton, currently executive vice president and chief legal counsel, will become president and CEO of Hulman & Co.) What this really means is anyone's guess, except that Belskus is a bean counter, and the last time I checked, the very last thing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway needs is a bean counter. Instead, the IMS needs a visionary promoter who knows how to put butts in seats and get the buzz back at The Speedway again. And the only person I know who fits that bill is Humpy Wheeler. Kudos again to Robin Miller (read his latest on Tony George ), whose coverage of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League remains second to none. And I have to wonder if we're not witnessing the ultimate decline of the Hulman family's control over the sport's crown jewel - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - because this not only seems like a giant non-move, it signals to me that they really don't have the first clue as to how to move the ball forward. Not Good. - PMD

 

See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and auto industry PR veteran Jason Vines this Thursday evening, July 2, at 7:00PM EDT at .

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Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Riverside, California, 1967. Dan Gurney drives his No. 48 All American Racers Eagle Weslake-Ford to victory in the Rex Mays Riverside 300 at Riverside International Raceway, one of the most memorable races of the 60s. The 300-mile race - which featured the battle for the USAC championship between A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti - was held at the end of the season on the famous road course and featured the best gathering of Indy drivers since Indianapolis that previous May. Dan Gurney showed up with his stock-block Indy Eagle to challenge the four-cam Fords, while two F1 drivers - Jim Clark and John Surtees - were also entered (it would be Surtees' only start in an Indy car). Other notables were Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Jim Hurtubise and Joe Leonard. Gurney, to absolutely no one's surprise, grabbed the pole position at his home track while Jim Clark stunned everyone by pushing his third-rate Vollstedt-Ford to the second starting position. Bobby Unser and Surtees made up Row 2, while Foyt and Andretti would square off from Row 3. Gurney uncharacteristically spun in Turn Six after the start and Clark would take the lead until his engine let go. Sadly, It would be Clark's last race in America. Gurney led comfortably after that until encountering a tire puncture with only four laps to go, allowing Andretti to take over. But Mario would need fuel with just three laps to go, handing the lead to Bobby Unser. In one of his most memorable and satisfying drives, Gurney would hunt down Unser and take the lead going into Turn 9, right before getting the white flag. Dan Gurney would go on to win (his first in the Indy-version of his Eagle), with Unser second and Andretti third. By finishing fifth, Foyt would win the 1967 USAC championship.


 

 

 

 

 

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