(written on May 21st, 2003 by Robin Miller, once one of the biggest critics of FTG and now one of the Indy Car Series' strongest supporters.)
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.? Is this an old Arab proverb or the new marketing slogan for the Indy Racing League and the few hundred people who still refuse to admit what they?re really seeing this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Because, even if you're just a tad bit realistic, you must acknowledge that the 87th Indianapolis 500 is a pathetic paradox in almost every way.
Tony “We're Right Where We Need To Be” George's so-called “vision” is a laughable hoax that's even left some of the IRL hardliners blinking in disbelief.
There are barely enough cars for the “greatest spectacle in racing,” qualifying required four laps instead of speed, Bump Day lost its soul and the IRL's supposed mantra was exposed as a fraud.
Let's start with the IRL's bullshit premise from 1994. Because George supposedly despised CART's engine leases, foreign manufacturers, greedy car owners, escalating costs, road racers and had concerns about preserving Indy's integrity, he started his own series.
And, in the process, killed the Indianapolis 500 by guaranteeing 25 of the 33 spots for his followers and bringing in Racin Gardner and Bronco Brad Murphey to replace Andretti, Unser, Rahal, Sullivan, Tracy and Fittipaldi.
Fast forward to May of 2003.
Honda and Toyota left CART and have literally taken over the IRL. They've won every race so far, led almost every lap, own all but one of the top teams and are kicking Chevrolet's ass up and down 16th Street. General Motors claims it's coming back in 2004, but who in the hell is going to want them”
Maybe Fred Treadway, Brad Calkins, Larry Cahill, 310 Racing or Curb Motorsports. Oh, that's right: All those old IRL teams dropped out this year because they couldn't afford the new IRL.
Thirty of the 33 starters are road racers, 28 with direct ties to CART, while only three drivers came from the midget and sprint-car ranks, which George vowed to return to prominence here with his league.
Young USAC stars like J.J. Yeley, Tracy Hines and Boston Reid are looking to join Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jason Leffler in NASCAR because, obviously, there's no place for them in the IRL unless they bring money. Or become George's relative.
Of course Donnie Beechler, a 36-time IRL starter, was at the track but couldn't get a silver badge to get into the pits to chase a ride until the second week of practice. “They made me feel like I had never been here before,” he said.
While Beechler was treated like an outsider, the IRL can't quit gushing about how wonderful it is to have Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti in “The League.” All those owners George hated and feared are now part of his extended family. Penske and Ganassi can”t spew enough praise on George”s vision.
And some of those phony announcers who hated Juan Montoya in 2000 are now gung-ho about interviewing Tora Takagi or Scott Dixon or any number of those evil foreigners from CART.
Ah, but I digress. Because of the IRL's new cars this season and new partners, we have a more expensive IRL that is sadly short of functioning teams. The month's top storyline was whether there would be enough cars for the traditional 11 rows of three.
The IRL party line from Baghdad Bob (aka Fred Nation) is that the Enron scandal, the Lakers losing, Conseco stock, SARS, the end of Friends and chuckholes on Georgetown Road are responsible for the lack of cars in Gasoline Alley.
Barnhart's new battle cry was “quality not quantity,” which naturally played well with the IRL minions. But many old-timers and people with a true passion for what Indy means were gagging about the loss of excitement and commitment on Bump Day.
Bump Day became an insult to any driver who ever hung his ass out to make the show or died trying. There were nine cars for nine spots and IMS only wanted to fill the field. It didn't dare want to take a chance on knocking out Sarah or one of A.J.”s cars.
But, hell, just because nobody got bumped didn”t mean you couldn't enjoy all the rock and roll music being played behind the Gondola (The Star”s term for the Pagoda in a 2002 story) or blaring over the PA system.
Some misguided dork with a marketing degree actually thinks Cracker is going to bring all the fans back from the mid-”90s or that “Art In Motion” (the IMS ad campaign for 2003) is somehow going to inspire new, sophisticated customers.
The only thing lamer than the IMS marketing department is CART's, but in the name of Bill Vukovich this is the greatest racetrack in the world. PROMOTE THE GODDAMN DRIVERS!!! Or the still-bargain prices of practice ($5) and qualifying ($10).
Just as sickening to traditionalists was the Infiniti Pro Series debut this month. A handful of under-powered shit boxes droning around Indy so Tony's stepson can get some headlines” Indy was special because it was Indy cars. What's next, figure 8's on opening day”
It's all too depressing. George is 100 percent hypocrite because the IRL has morphed into CART and he didn”t give a fiddler”s fuck about American drivers, IRL loyalty or preserving anything resembling tradition. Tom Carnegie is announcing hot dog eating contests instead of new track records. Ticket demand continues to drop, but IMS is raising prices next year. Fill Day instead of Bump Day.
To quote a good friend of mine: “It”s over.”
And I'm afraid it's never coming back.