At some point in the near future it seems likely to me that the Hulman-George family will have to consider shuttering the Indy Racing League and continuing with only the Indianapolis 500. According to most accounts the IRL hasn’t made a dime of profit in more than a dozen years of existence and the Hulman-Georges have only ever had the profitability of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in mind; so, why not cut the dead weight of the series and resource the TEAM program to underwrite the only race that matters to anyone?
It’s almost certain that Honda wouldn’t object to supplying Ilmor engines to teams on a month-of-May-only lease basis – annual lease cost to the teams would be less and Honda could charge closer to what they actually cost - as the Japanese carmaker would get the “prestige” of winning the 500 every year.
As for the IndyCar teams and existing or potential sponsors, the 500 is their only marketable exposure; cost of participation would be reduced and that would bring team sponsorship more in line with its ROI. There is an existing inventory of racecars and engines sufficient to supply 33 grid spots annually for years to come and the 500 could be operated in the same way it was for decades early in the 20th century: i.e. “Indy only” teams headquartered in or near Indianapolis that dust off their racecars once a year and use the month of May to blow out the cobwebs and bring engineers and drivers up to speed (literally).
This should make everyone in Marion County happy; the Gomers would get their annual Gomerfest at the only racetrack that means anything to them and the Hulman-Georges could start to trim the expenses of the four or five annual motorsport events (including the 500) that would make up the IMS calendar to increase their profits.
For instance, once the ICS TEAM subsidy has been used to initially supply the teams with chassis, spares and engine leases, it could be tapered off to subsidize only the engine lease (as teams should be responsible for new chassis and consumables and/or crash damage) and the 500 could go back to being supported by its purse. Speaking of chassis, Indy could return to its days of Offenhauser domination where an Indycar’s engine was a given and only the chassis differed in order to reintroduce innovation to the 500.
In fact, if Ilmor and Honda get uppity the Speedway management could buy up the rights to the Offenhauser design and start to supply the 500's teams with the tried-and-true turbocharged four-cylinders; which Robin Miller says is the next engine formula anyway. If the transition is managed smoothly enough, the 500 could be returned to its state in the late 1960s or early 1970s overnight: teams of backyard tuners turning out discreet Indycar chassis and their own tune of turbo Offenhauser (maybe change its name to “Hulmanhauser” or “Huffy”).
The House of Mouse (ABC/ESPN) would probably be just fine with paying the same broadcast fee for the retro-500 alone and reduced TV production costs profit everyone concerned. Versus wasn’t going to do anything for anyone; it will be forgotten in an instant.
Overnight, all the Hulman-George family troubles melt away. Tony gets to wheel Mari out to do the “Gentlemen and ladies start your engines” bit for the 500 ... and the Allstate 400 (if they’ll let her) ... and the Firestone Freedom 100 (if they’ll let her) ... and the MotoGP (if they’ll let her) ... and the USGP (if it comes back and they’ll let her) ... and the IROC, USAC, balloon and bicycle races (ditto) ... and he gets to pretend that he is still the BMOS and that he has swell new emperor’s clothes.
Pretty soon, everyone in Naptown will forget about that nasty business with the rival open-wheel series and get back to planning Camp & Brew picnics and worshipping at the altar of the Hulmans.
Crazy? You wait and see