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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Let common sense prevail

by Gordon Kirby
This week I'm pleased to take a step back and allow longtime race fan Jim Strong from Azusa, California to take center stage. Jim has written an open letter to everyone involved in American open-wheel racing from Tony George, Kevin Kalkhoven and Jerry Forsythe to the racetracks, manufacturers, car builders and drivers, and I present his letter here this week in its entirety. Jim's erudite plea to recreate Indy/Champ car racing echoes many ideas I've pushed in this space and also have heard from plenty of other people. I'm delighted to provide another view this week of how to fix a badly damaged sport from a very knowledgeable and committed fan. Here it is:

Ladies & gentlemen:
As a fan of American open-wheel racing, I have to say that enough is enough. Both sides of the divide have worked so hard to drive the sport that I love so far into the dirt to make it almost unrecognizable in regards to what it once was. People I know who were once true fans of open-wheel racing have either left for the greener pastures of NASCAR, or no longer watch or care about racing at all. This is mostly because both series fail to hold a candle to CART in its heyday.

CART became my favorite series because, in my opinion, it was really the greatest driver's championship in the world. I know there are/were many who were also of that same opinion.

I started out as a drag racing fan attending races at Irwindale Raceway, but loved to take in everything: Sprint cars at Ascot Park, Local hardtops at speedway 605, NASCAR at Riverside. I have camped out on many occasions in turn four at Ontario Motor Speedway to watch both Champcars and NASCAR, and have even done so at Fontana. I have gone out to support Vintage Club Racing and I have stood at the top of Laguna Seca to watch Champcars plunge through the corkscrew. I have even dragged myself out of bed at 4:00am to cheer on Eddie Cheever, Michael Andretti and Scott Speed as they raced against some of the best drivers and teams in the world. I have been to the Test In The West at Fontana and Spring Training at Laguna Seca. I attend open testing at Fontana when Champcar comes around. My point here is this: 1. I've been around for quite awhile, and I'm not a Johnny-come-lately to motorsports, and 2. Even though I love a wide variety of racing, nothing captured my heart and imagination like CART.

Tell me, what was there not to love about a series that included Super Speedways, Short Ovals (Not to mention a tri-oval and even a Roval), Natural Road Courses and Street Circuits? There were several different Chassis and several different engines. It was the most unique series in the world and by the account of many, the greatest series in the world. A series so great, that the reigning world champion left F1 to run CART rather than defend his title. Additionally, CART was a series that drew drivers from all over the world. And there were still plenty of Americans running the series.

I realize that CART had its problems. The original concept was to mimic what other pro sports were doing, where the teams would run the sport. It was an attempt to save the sport from USAC, and rightly so. But in other pro sports, the big teams in big markets have to look out for the interests of small teams in smaller markets. The CART board had members who were self-serving jerks who only wanted to "dominate" instead of looking after the little guys and really nurturing and growing the sport. You know who you are. If you don't know who you are, call up Dale Coyne. I'm sure he would be glad to explain it to you. But none of this is news to any of you. You already know all of this. I am rehashing this merely to make a later point.

Since the split, both sides have worked tirelessly to take something really great and reduce it to near ashes. Both sides have a complete disregard for the people that are supposed to matter: the FANS! Tony George, I once read a quote by you where you stated that "The people I talk to don't care about street racing." I'm sure that was true if the people that you were talking to were USAC officials. The fans that I have spoken to are still mourning the day you announced the IRL (I have spoken to many fans who will not watch or have anything to do with the IRL on principle alone.) Since then, the IRL has gone from horrible to merely being bad, but only after abandoning everything that the IRL set out to do in its original mission statement and now resembles "CART lite." CART has gone from great to lame. All of this is at the expense of those who buy the tickets. Both sides have created something so far removed from what the fans really crave, it's a wonder anyone shows up at all. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, listen to what I am saying. I am begging you to create something brilliant and to stop wallowing in mediocrity.

What do the fans really want? One series. One really great series. This is not something I am just making up. I have spoken to many fans, read message boards and blogs, and have attended fan forums. This is not just the wish of the fans. I have spoken to many journalists, drivers and team owners. Even Champcar ownership has lamented that there are two series. How is it possible that the fans, the journalists, the drivers, and the team and series ownership, the manufacturers and sponsors all want the same thing, but no one is able to make it happen? In a free market economy, when there is a need, someone jumps in to fill that need and is generally successful. This mess makes absolutely no sense. Everyone wants the same thing, and yet, for some bizarre reason we keep doing the opposite. Isn't that one definition of insanity? To keep doing the same thing and expect different results?

So, here is what I am proposing: either the series owners make it happen by 2010, or the team owners form CART II. Someone has to save this mess. CART was originally formed to save the sport from USAC. It could work this time, because now 20/20 hindsight exists. CART would not be destined to make the same mistakes. Look out for the little guys. Limit testing. Allow SOME development. Invite the manufacturers back. Invite the constructors back. Don't let them (manufacturers, constructors) give parts to some teams and not others. Keep costs in check. Restore the Indy 500 to greatness. Jeez, you're all smart guys, figure it out.

As a fan, and from what I know from talking to other fans, this is what we would like to see: Keep the Vanderbilt Cup, The Nations Cup, re-instate the manufacturers and constructors championships. 28 cars on the grid on race day. 33 cars at Indy. 20 races per season. Call it the Indycar World Series. The venues should include ovals, road and street courses.

Here is my dream schedule:
Ovals would make up about a third of the season: Indy, California Speedway, Michigan (these three races would form the "triple crown." Win all three in a season, get a million dollar bonus. How about it Firestone?) Twin-Ring Motegi (This new series would really need to include Honda, since both series owe Honda a debt of gratitude, and in the case of CART/Champcar, an apology.) the Milwaukee Mile (because everyone goes to Milwaukee after Indy) Phoenix and Rockingham (Because England serves the purpose of a European date and it is the home of many manufacturers as well as several drivers.) You will notice the absence of Texas. We want the cars to be too fast to run on high banks. Please make the cars fast again.

The Road Courses would make up about a third also: Road America (while I have never been, I hear its something to see in person. Anyway this track looks really good on TV.) Laguna Seca, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Watkins Glen, Portland, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. (If you don't like the idea of Rockingham, how about Brands Hatch?)

Lastly, the street circuits: Long Beach, Houston, St. Pete, Surfer's Paradise (Australia is really stepping up to the plate) Detroit (set for a great comeback, hopefully, in the spiritual home of the American automotive industry) Cleveland, and Toronto.

The cars should look good and be pretty cutting edge. Let's get one thing straight. Spec series are for lower forms of racing, not what should be the pinnacle of American Motorsports. Whether by design, or de facto, spec is NOT the way to go. We want innovation and variety. This includes not only chassis, but probably even more important, engines. Look, American motorsport is often based on manufacturer rivalry. Doesn't everyone grow up on one side or the other of the Chevy vs. Ford debate? I know I did, just like many others. Let's see several manufacturers get involved. Make it interesting and they will come. It has worked for the American Le Mans Series.

Now, I will propose a very radical idea. Open it up to turbo diesel. Not just diesel, but bio-diesel. Create a very green series. What Audi has done in American Le Mans is excellent, but imagine if the cars ran on bio-diesel! This is so relevant to a country bent on weaning itself off petroleum.

As for chassis design, the IRL cars are flat out ugly. Sorry, but it's the truth. The Panoz is better, but seems to lack sponsor space. I'm sure you can come up with a format that would allow several manufacturers to design various versions that would be competitive and cost efficient. It should allow for close racing on any track, be serviceable and include on-board starters (a great idea that obviously needs some fine tuning since we never got to see it work).

As for the rules of competition, quit it with the manufactured excitement. The push to pass never created any drama. The "red" tires are an OK idea, but not any real drama either. How about this, have each team pick one type, either reds or regulars and run them the whole weekend. Now that would be interesting.

More local yellows. Please. No, Really. Especially at road courses. Keep the standing starts where you can, it adds to the variety of the sport, and thus makes for one more discipline to master.

Television Package: Races on ABC, Pre-race and qualifying on ESPN (with the exception of Indy) and Lifestyle shows on ESPN2.

As for the ladder series, keep Atlantics, and turn the IPS into something akin to GP2. Below Atlantics, Formula BMW and below that, Easycart. Total perfection. Have a scholarship for each series champion to take the next step.

Please make this happen for the sake of all of us. One series is the only thing that will get the regular media to take notice of American Open-Wheel racing again. Let's stop the madness, and return to greatness. Let common sense prevail.

Jim Strong, Azusa, CA

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2008 ~ All Rights Reserved

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