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Turn Left, Go Faster

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Open Wheel Racing Topics:  IZOD IndyCar Series
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Turn Left, Go Faster

Bill Crittenden
November 20, 2012

2012 was a rough year for the IZOD IndyCar Series.  After ending last season with the death of Dan Wheldon and starting with an unproven new car, the series had canceled races whittle the schedule down to just four oval courses.  After a down year, it's time to bounce back.

The cars already have choices for engines and are gaining body design choices, so there's nothing much technical to be done.  The drivers are a great mix of talent and personality, now that the spotlight is off of one train wreck in particular.  In particular, who doesn't love Helio Castroneves?  Tony Kanaan?  Graham Rahal will be driving for his dad, my favorite driver as a kid.  He'll be going up against Marco Andretti.  There are still women in the field, Katherine Legge and Simona di Silvestro, both not only better drivers but if one accounts for giving the male fans something nicer than the cars to look at, much prettier than the one who pimped herself out to the internet site ads and left for NASCAR money.  And how about that Will Power?  You couldn't write a character like him in a comic book for the name being too unrealistically perfect even in a world of super powers.  Charlie Kimball is inspiring.  It's great to see Rubens Barrichello still racing in the old tradition of coming to America after the F1 career has run its course, following in the very big footsteps of Andretti and Fittipaldi.

But I missed a lot of the action this year.  Two-hundred and twenty miles per hour average speeds, running high, low, and everywhere in between around tracks that stock cars parade around single file at 180 miles an hour.  Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, but as I mentioned when Dan Wheldon lost his life:

The risks aren't for everybody.  Some people are perfectly content to be competitive playing golf, or get their thrills by getting filmed for Antiques Roadshow.  Simply going 220 miles an hour in an open car doesn't sound like a risk worth taking for many.  But IndyCar's drivers had surrounded themselves with some of the best safety equipment and medical teams in motorsports to try and make their mark on one of the biggest events in the past decade of their sport.  Despite the complaints about the track before the race, all the drivers considered the risk, weighed it against the rewards, and got out onto the track.  And despite the accident, IndyCar racing won't be short of willing drivers in the coming years.  There are just too many people who aren't content sitting in a cubicle and watching the world pass by from their front porch. (Living on a Track: Dan Wheldon - October 17, 2011)

Watching others take risks is a sort of vicarious adrenaline rush for the fans, it's exciting and emotional and we haven't gotten enough of it more than a century since two automobiles were lined up next to each other to see who had the faster car.  Speed and risk aren't the only things, though, as risk is minimized by safer cars and safer equipment and controlled speeds.  If speed were the only factor, the NHRA would be the highest rated racing show on TV.  If risk was the only factor, people would still pack stadiums to watch someone drive off a ramp and jump a dozen buses.

Where am I going with all this?  IndyCar needs to get back on the ovals.  Ideally, I would like to see a 50/50 split of ovals and road courses, made not by taking away road course dates but by expanding the schedule with more oval track dates.  Of course, the Indianapolis 500 is the epic event of American motorsport history, and needs to remain intact, but as Indianapolis is no longer so sacred that it can't host other events, there is just one other road course date I would love to add: The Grand Prix of Indianapolis, running the former F1 course in the IndyCars.

Going to Milwaukee the week after Indy is a grand old tradition as well.  In recent years the IndyCar races at Chicagoland Speedway and Texas had some of the best racing I have ever seen of any type.  Michigan was a great IndyCar tradition as well.  Didn't Pocono get repaved recently?

There is one other touchy subject.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  The cars are safer.  I'm sure there were lessons learned from the tragedy that would help prevent it from happening again beyond, "let's not go there again."  Indianapolis claimed more than its fair share of lives, and every time drivers and teams came back, each year with safer and safer cars.  Not only did NASCAR return to the track where Dale Earnhardt died that same year, but so did his son, Dale Jr., who won the race.  It would be a great tribute to him to run a Dan Wheldon 500 in honor of him at Las Vegas, using the lessons learned from his accident and racing the safer cars named in his honor to run an awesome race without repeating the tragedy.

That's 7, just returning to the same old tracks IndyCars have been run before.  How about a little fun with the imagination now?

Michael Waltrip called driving Bristol like flying jet fighters in a gymnasium.  Perhaps NASCAR race cars, in this context, would be more like P-51 Mustangs in a gymnasium.  The real jet fighters have yet to visit the track, if you get what I'm referring to.

A night race at the former Indianapolis Raceway Park, now going as Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, would be a fun way to take a break from the lead up to the Indy 500 and turn the event back into a monthlong spectacle by making it a bit like the stock cars at Daytona Speedweeks (perhaps the Indy road course race could be the kickoff at the beginning of the month?).

Showing the southern NASCAR fan just what IndyCars can do would help bring major attention to the sport in its home country.  I don't think it would take fans away from NASCAR, but it would give them a new interest in addition to stock cars.  In this case, Darlington would be an awesome place to run the IndyCars.

Similar to the challenge laid down at Las Vegas in 2011, the IndyCar Series should run a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on an off week for NASCAR's Sprint Cup, and offer a million to the driver and a million to the owner (to encourage owners to offer up their cars) if a stock car regular wins the race.  Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, maybe even Dale Jr. (who expressed some interest in the Indy 500 a few years back) could get a car in the race.

There, that's 11 oval track races on what could easily be a 20+ race schedule if international travel isn't regularly required and the 3 races in the month of May are all run in one county.

There's a huge fun upside to this type of schedule, and there's a downside to focusing on road courses.  In the beginning, when IRL and CART split, CART had most of the big names, but fans and eventually teams found their way back over to the oval track racing.  It's what the fans want, it's what makes IndyCars unique amongst open wheel racing around the world, and it's what sets IndyCars apart as the fastest racing machines in the world (aside from the short-distance straight-line guys), making it even faster than Formula 1, which is what the fans just might turn to if they're looking for the best open wheel road course racing in the world.

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