Friday, February 5, 2010

Say no to Kee-Rock

(by Marshall Pruett speedtv.com 2-5-10)

Have you ever had one of those days where you woke up, felt great, looked forward to a solid day’s work, but the moment you opened your email inbox, it all went horribly wrong?

Welcome to my Friday morning.

I don’t know where your political leanings fall – Republican or Democrat – and I can’t say whether you’re a fan of Barack Obama.

To be honest, where you land on both topics isn’t important, but there is one message the President has sent – that the bickering and in-fighting between the two parties won't help our country – should resonate with every American citizen.

Put aside your differences, whatever they may be, and work together to find a common solution for the greater good of everyone. The message isn’t exclusive to Obama, and it has worked since cavemen fought over women, food, and fire.

This message, though, hasn’t reached 16th and Georgetown.

The IndyCar of Tomorrow -- the 2012 machine -- is a construct of the entrants in the IndyCar paddock. After a continual lack of progress by the League, Chip Ganassi, Ganassi’s Ben Bowlby, Bowlby’s newly formed Delta Wing, LLC, and the majority of the paddock have gotten together to propose a radical new chassis, a clean slate for engine regulations, and everything else they hope will revitalize open-wheel racing.

And despite that bold, progressive effort by the paddock, they’ve had a major, 100-foot tall hurdle to overcome in Brian Barnhart and the IndyCar Series.

If you are a fan of Indy-style racing and its history, you might find some parallels between the efforts of the paddock and the 2012 car and those of the disenfranchised group that broke from USAC to form CART more than 30 years ago.

While I won’t go so far as to say the ‘Delta Wings’ are looking to break from the IndyCar Series, it doesn’t take a degree in Political Science to figure out that with the 2012 initiative, the Delta Wings sent a somewhat subtle message to the League that they know who holds the real power in the relationship.

Subtract the haulers, sponsors, crews, and drivers from the paddock, and Barnhart and Co. are sitting atop a circus with an empty tent.

The Delta Wings haven’t been forceful about it; sanity and civility has marked everything they’ve done so far, and the overall tone they’ve conveyed to the series has been of working together.

And what have they gotten for their efforts?

Aiding and abetting? Plagiarism? A little bit of both, maybe?

The Delta Wings kept their Chicago Auto Show launch under wraps for a while, but eventually word got out and they confirmed their 2012 model will be unveiled next week in Illinois.

Rather than collaborate with the Delta Wings, the League saw an opportunity to gain a tactical advantage – one that is purely political – by working hurriedly to scoop the Chicago Auto Show launch.

First, the IndyCar Series sent out a release on Thursday, written by Ben Bowlby, sorry, Brian Barnhart, that outlined everything the League wanted to see in a new car for 2012.

What Bowlby, err, sorry, dang keyboard keeps hanging up, Barnhart said looked exactly like a Cliff’s Notes version of everything the Delta Wings have outlined as their goals for the 2012 car.

Actually, this goes deeper than using Cliff’s Notes. This was like stealing your college roommate’s English essay, copying it almost word for word, but changing a few ‘aren’ts’ to ‘are not’s’ and moving a few sentences around in each paragraph so that on the surface, it looks different, but in reality, it’s just a cut-and-paste job.

They didn’t have the decency to acknowledge Ben Bowlby, or to include something as simple as inspired by Ben Bowlby and the Delta Wing group at the bottom of the release.

Barnhart should be thankful this wasn’t a college essay, as he would have been dismissed from school the moment the paper was submitted.

If plagiarizing Bowlby’s work wasn’t divisive enough, I awoke today to find an email from Dallara's Andrea Toso that included renderings of the Italian firm’s proposed 2012 IndyCar. After calling around to a few other IndyCar journos, they confirmed the same email appeared in their inboxes. Like mine, their emails also had a member of IndyCar’s PR staff CC’d.

With the Chicago launch date in mind, how dirty is it for the IndyCar Series to provide Dallara their entire media email list for them to scoop the Delta Wings? Once again, rather than reach out and embrace the forward-thinking members of their own paddock, Barnhart and the League choose to aid and abet Dallara, helping them to get their 2012 images out first, to steal the thunder of the Delta Wings, and to intentionally drive a deeper wedge through the paddock.

Am I the only one that sees this tired move as plainly as the IndyCar Series has acted it out? This is about as transparent a move to hinder the Delta Wings as it gets, right?

It’s like an episode of my favorite childhood cartoon, Wacky Races, where Dick Dastardly twists up the ends of his moustache and says “Now that I know when they’ll show the car, let’s see them stop me from beating them to the punch with a launch of my own!” followed by he and Muttley breaking into an evil laugh.

It doesn’t take much to imagine Barnhart as Dick Dastardly, new CEO Randy Bernard as Muttley, and the Delta Wings as the pigeon they are trying to smash in the opening sequence of the cartoon above, now does it?

In the name of Rodney King, can’t we all just get along? Does this Us vs. Them, Republican vs. Democrat, Yankees vs. Red Sox, IndyCar Series vs. Delta Wing adversarial approach help in any way?

Does the thought of folks in the paddock – people that are MUCH smarter than those at 16th and Georgetown when it comes to new car designs – taking control of their own fate scare the League so much that all they know how to do is rail against them?

Rather than embrace the group of cavemen that discovered how to make fire, Barnhart and his group opt to stone and kill the guys because it wasn’t their idea. With the Delta Wings, they produced that first fire – the one to lead the series out of darkness – but the League can do no better than to try and douse the flame, start one of their own, and take credit for the invention. It’s one step forward, and two steps back whenever the League gets their hands on something, isn’t it?

I don’t know what the solution is here. Do we need to call Obama and ask him to pull the IndyCar Series and the Delta Wings together to have a beer on the White House lawn like he did with Henry Louis Gates and the police officer that arrested him? Honestly, I don’t think it would help.

Do we need to teach Caveman Brian and Bronco Bernard that Delta Wing’s fire isn’t something to be afraid of?

Personally, I think Barnhart and his actions have more in common with Kee-Rock, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, Phil Hartman’s character on Saturday Night Live, than anything you'd expect from a a senior IndyCar official. For all of Barnhart’s effort to paint himself as a progressive, he’s done nothing more than try to steal the march of a group he sees as his rivals, and then work feverishly to undermine everything they’ve done. Despite the shiny suit and the slick talk, his tactics are primal, if not Stone Age. All that’s missing is a giant club in one hand and a woman being dragged around by her hair in the other.

It’s sad, lame, and plays into the partisan politics that have no place in a series as fragile as IndyCar. I don’t know if he realizes just how close he keeps pushing the Delta Wings to a point where they decide to form their own series.

Jackass moves by USAC spawned CART. A jackass move created the IRL. Maybe this latest jackass move will cause the Delta Wings, an ownership base mostly free of jackasses, to take their fire elsewhere.

I can hear it now…“I’m a caveman, and I’m frightened by your strange Delta Wing machine…”

If Kee-Rock keeps it up, he could find himself with an empty paddock in 2012 and no one to drive his new Dallara.

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