Honestly, I think it is two things:
One, from the moment the League was formed is has been fueled by promises. Next year is always going to be its “breakout year” and there’s always some new reason given for false hope.
Ordinarily, this game of three-card Monte could only go on for so long and then the available suckers would wise up and quit playing and the whole con would come to a grinding halt.
However, the second reason is that we have a unique situation in which AOWR was once the nation’s most popular motor sport and hugely valuable and this gave validity to the hope that a turnaround was always just around the corner and the effort would be worth the expense. Especially as many potential sponsors both inside and outside the sport were unclear about the reasons for the sport’s sudden decline; save a general belief that the Split was responsible for it. Hence, “reunification” became another impossible goal and another false promise; i.e. “just wait until we unify, then we’ll have our breakout season…yada, yada, yada.”
Still, I don’t believe even the most optimistic backers of the sport would have deluded themselves for so long if not for one unprecedented circumstance: the architects of this nightmare, the largely insane Hulman-George family were willing to spend nearly all their inherited wealth – perhaps as much as $600 million or more – in support of their folly. For a while this sort of spending was matched by Pook and the CART public company, who poured the $100 million IPO money into the fray. When CART went bankrupt, the Amigos stepped in and infused another $50-100 million into the sport trying to turn things around. Given the contributions of the sport’s major stakeholders on both sides of the conflict – e.g. auto manufacturers, Oldsmobile, Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, etc. – one could easily imagine that more than a billion and a half dollars was collectively spend in trying to keep the sport alive and somehow return it to its former glory.
I think Honda remains in the sport because a series of incredibly stupid corporate decisions have left them holding the bag for the sport’s other manufacturers and they keep hoping that their next decision will get them out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into. Firestone is easy; they bankrolled both sides of the Split so as to inherit the sport and remained too long at the party. Their recently aborted departure means that they have finally given up all hope of the sport’s recovery and are only remaining to try to make themselves whole and keep their R&D arm intact. PVH/IZOD are simply clueless suckers who’ve been sold on the idea that marketing can sell anything, no matter how rancid, and they simply can’t believe that the sport is currently worthless (except for the money they are pumping into it). I expect an agonizing reappraisal (to quote an old 7-Up commercial) will come sometime after the I500.
And that’s really the key; even the Hulman-Georges have made no real plans beyond the centennial I500. This is their “make or break” deadline, which the Idiot Grandson admitted approximately three years ago. The “Centennial Era” was supposed to magically transform the league into a success as everyone got misty about Indy and its traditions (most of which have now been discarded or soiled) and remembered how much the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” meant to the nation and Indiana. The family even sold their last motorsport assets outside of Naptown (e.g. Chicagoland) to get the league to the 2011 I500 and one last roll of the dice.
Well, guess what, it ain’t happening. The supposedly “bulletproof” I500 is dying of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Moreover, 2011 is supposed to be a year for celebration and building momentum for a renewed vision of the sport. The loonies at 16th & Jonestown have the “partners” they’ve been dreaming about all these years in IZOD and Versus/NBC, who are knocking themselves out to market the sow’s ear League to the general public, and the results get worse month by month as the consumers en masse turn their back on the unwanted motor sport product from Indy.
The only way that the sport will be reborn to the H-G’s specifications in 2012 is if a lot of somebody’s (or just the family) spent a boatload of cash for all new equipment. The only thing that is going to induce them to do that is the promise of a rich return and the League is basically all out of promises (that anyone will believe). If, for any reason, the 2012 car is delayed a year or more…they’re dead. The classless clowns from Terre Haute literally can’t afford ONE more season of television with 0.02 ratings and empty grandstands without a believable promise to sell or hope for the future.