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July 17, 2019
 

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Fumes


Wednesday
Feb132008

FUMES #432

February 13, 2008

Open Wheel's Road to Redemption.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit.
With a journalist of the caliber of Robin Miller on the story, I won't pretend to break any news regarding the implosion of Champ Car. Robin has the experience, the s and the insight to report on the details of the events - and get it right - and it's always a pleasure to read his work. I can comment, however, on what a long strange trip it has been for major league open wheel racing in this country after all of these years of acrimony, and what the future may look like.

First of all, I think we all have to take a moment to remember that open wheel racing will always hold a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts of a certain age. Whether it meant being mesmerized by the annual drama at Indy, or seeing the film Grand Prix over and over again back in the day, open wheel racing was racing for a lot of enthusiasts. And when the mid-engine revolution swept the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Formula 1 and Indy converged in one gloriously spectacular era with the likes of Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney, Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill going up against Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, et al, it's no wonder that despite the downward spiral that open wheel racing has been on in this country for the last twelve years, there's still a spark of enthusiasm for it. It may be down to the barely glowing embers, but it's still there nonetheless.

That's why the news of the imminent demise of Champ Car and its absorption into the IndyCar Series does not conjure up old feelings of hostility or a "winners" vs. "losers" scenario for me. There's little left to be said about why the original split happened and what it did or didn't accomplish, because at this point it just doesn't matter. Suffice to say that America's racing landscape has changed unequivocally in these last 12 years, and the toll from the "split" has been devastating. The Indianapolis 500 is still standing and actually even enjoying a bit of a renaissance, but the Long Beach Grand Prix is the only other legitimate major league open wheel racing event in this country that generates mass media coverage to any degree.

The rest of the story? As we well know, it's all-NASCAR-all-the-time. Everywhere we turn, we're reminded just how invisible open wheel racing has become in this country in the face of the NASCAR marketing juggernaut. But as I've been saying for a while now, nothing can stay that hot forever, and we're seeing definitive signs that the upward trajectory of NASCAR has not only flattened out, it's beginning its inevitable slide downward.

Does this mean that open wheel racing will suddenly be a media player again and everything will be great overnight? Hardly. There's no amount of wishing and hoping that will instantly right the wrongs of 12 years of rancor and divisiveness. Open wheel's road to redemption just won't be that be easy. It will be an agonizingly slow climb back for open wheel racing as a cohesive schedule is hammered out and the natural rhythms of a fully-subscribed open wheel racing calendar are reestablished at tracks across the country. But even then it remains to be seen if open wheel racing can rise above being a mere blip on the radar screen, especially after the stick-and-ball media has been indoctrinated over the last decade to think that the only racing in America worth covering involves NASCAR.

It's no secret that this business of two major league open wheel racing series in this country grew tiresome years ago. It's a relief that the silliness has finally come to an end, and now we can only hope that the focus can get back on the racing - and only on the racing.

That's the only thing that will fan the embers at this point.

Publisher's Note: In our continuing series celebrating the "Golden Era" of American racing history, we thought our readers would enjoy another image from the Ford Racing Archives this week. - PMD
mtrsptshist_1741_HR1.jpg
Indianapolis, IN, 1963. Jim Clark prepares for a test run in his Lotus Ford as Ford execs looks on.