Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An Open Letter to the IndyCar Series Team Owners

Hello, Gentlemen (and Lady, Ms. Fisher),
You don't know me, but I'm a long time fan. Of all of yours. Literally. Mr. Penske, I've thrilled to the feats of your bespoke chassis that so dominated CART for years, and I've enjoyed the driving of basically every one of your employees (although I thought you put Alex Barron on an unnecessarily short leash). Mr. Wiggins, I love that you're employing who you are, possibly the fastest woman ever to sit in an IndyCar (oh, and we will get confirmation of that someday, as she will win more than one IndyCar race). Ms. Fisher, you employ one of the 3-4 brightest young stars in the entirety of worldwide motorsport right now, and everybody who's ever watched an IndyCar race appreciates how much your team does with how little you have. Mr. Vasser, you're my second all-time favorite driver in any form of motorsport, behind only some guy that I may or may not have named offspring after as a tribute. Mr. Andretti, you have three of the most exciting drivers on the whole grid, one of whom is possibly the most engaging personality ever to strap on a set of Sparco shoes. Mr. Ganassi, you own what was my favorite team for years and years (this would be the Andretti/Herta/Vasser/Zanardi/Montoya era, for those wondering), and continue to employ two of my favorite guys around. I could go on and on.

So, with all of this in mind, it pains me greatly to have to write you this letter. You are all walking on very thin ice. Not just with me, you see, but with every current and potential future IndyCar Series fan.

No, I'm not talking about the rumored "palace revolt", which I think is borderline indefensible, given all that Randy Bernard has done in the last 27 months to increase the profile of the sport, but I understand that in a sport with so many egos, people are going to have their differences. I'm not totally thrilled that your dirty laundry has been dragged out into the street for all to see, but I appreciate the peek behind the big, velvet curtain. I hope you guys get that worked out.

What I'm talking about is your apparent desire to veto the introduction of aerokits for the Dallara DW12 for 2013. I do remember this happening around about this time last year as well, and I was not happy about it then, either.

Let me put some things on the table right here. First of all, overall, I basically love where the IndyCar Series is going. Sure, like just about every other racing fan with a pulse, I wish that we were going to more ovals. But, I understand why we have the schedule we have (ovals not currently drawing enough fans, street and road courses are apparently more flush with cash to pay sanctioning fees). I really dig the DW12, even aesthetically, and I think the call to go with small, turbocharged, direct-injected, ethanol fueled engines was a borderline stroke of genius (even F1 doesn't have direct injection, and NASCAR is only just now figuring out what the word "injection" even means). I'm totally cool with the fact that Bump Day was basically meaningless this year (which means a lot coming from a guy who had the following conversation MULTIPLE times during his dating career:

Prospective Girlfriend: "So, what's your favorite day of the ye-"

Me (all over it): "Indy 500, Race Day."

PG (clearly taken aback by answer other than Christmas or Halloween): "Um, OK...so, what's your sec-"

Me (without hesitation): "Indy 500 Bump Day."

PG (obviously confused): "Uh, what's that?"

Me (deep breath): "It's the final day of qualifying for the 500, where drivers roam pit lane looking for last second rides to fulfill the dream of competing at Indianapolis for the first time, or just to get that fix again. People are hired and fired, dreams are made and shattered. It's like an entire season of racing condensed in one afternoon."

PG: "OK. [looking around for other people to talk to...or a waiter to bring her half of the bill so's she can escape and tell her friends what a loony she just went on a first date with] So, third favorite?"

Me: "Hmmm. Indy 500 Pole Day?"

so, it's a BIG DEAL to me that Bump Day was emasculated, but I get that we're short engines this year, and I have confidence that it'll be back in a big way next year; we're all good there). I'm even willing to brush off stuff like what happened last weekend at Detroit, where my old home city looked just how I remembered it when I left in 2007: pretty and interesting, but don't look to hard, because you will see crumbling infrastructure and probably rats and stuff (I'm willing to spend my time remembering the three FANTASTICALLY AWESOME races that we had at Barber, Long Beach and Indy).

With all of that out in the open, you can tell that I'm a pretty positive guy. BUT, that sunny chit-chat ends right here.

I have long been an advocate that a prospective group of fans that has been underserved by IndyCar has been that of the "car guy". From 2006 to 2011, everybody had the same car, chassis, engine and tires. Anybody looking for the type of mechanical diversity seen in CART/IndyCar/IRL from the inception of the sport up through 2005 or the type of diversity seen in American Le Mans Series over the years was out of luck. I've known MANY "car guys" (including 1-2 at each of my places of business over that time period, plus even a couple of old roommates) over the past years who told me that they just couldn't get interested in IndyCar because they like to see different cars. Fair enough. I'm a car guy, too, so I can't begrudge them that.

HOWEVER, here we are in 2012, and we have a NEW CAR!!!! It's interesting looking (for better or worse)! And it's got cool engines, produced by three different companies (for now, anyway)! And we're going to have a diversity of bodywork on the cars in 2013, and the car owners even said so!

Except, here we are. Those new aero kits are being shot down by you. Can we talk about why for a minute?

Is this really an economic thing? Because what I'm seeing is that for 2012, you had a major outlay to buy brand new chassis. Yep, I'm pretty sure that some of you went in hoc for them, and I also understand that they were not as cheap as you were led to believe they'd be. I get that. And believe me, I sympathize. I worked as a crew chief/lead engineer/sticker applier/truck driver/lunch gofer/janitor on a one-member crew for an SCCA Formula Ford for a year and a half. Even that level of motorsports is not cheap ($7500 for an engine rebuild?!?! For what's essentially a 25 year old engine?!?!? That makes 116.4 HP?!?!?!?!?!?). This stuff goes with the territory. And I know that the aerokits are not going to be cheap, either. $75,000 a piece adds up fast.

However, have any of you considered that if you're really that strapped for cash (or if you were planning on spending the $700,000+ per one-car team that is now freed up by not having to buy two $350,000 chassis for 2013 on something like a new International LoneStar to pull your trailer around with, or a new Prevost motorhome in which you can take a nap while your team manager lobbies for extra sets of tires or whatever), you don't necessarily have to buy the new aerokits (because you already have a few sets of Dallara bodywork floating around your shop and trailer from this year)? Or, if you can only afford one or two kits (like a throwback to the days when a team would buy a Buick grenade for just the 500, cross their fingers and hope for the best), you just do that and hope that your driver doesn't shatter your new stuff into 100,000 Viso-ized bits? Do you really HAVE to buy three kits for each and every single chassis that you own? Or possibly you could swing a deal with Randy to make sure that the kits can be swapped from chassis to chassis? And have him make sure replacement parts (bought on an a la carte basis, I assume) won't cost an arm and a leg for a wing endplate (which I hope would also mean a revised pricesheet from Dallara for 2013 and beyond)?

Look, I appreciate you. All of you. But your aerokit genie is not going to go back into the bottle at this point. If you manage to stall out the introduction of aerokits for another year, well, first of all, you've just guaranteed that stuff like the 6-page pull out spread (technical highlights of the DW12!) in the June issue of Road & Track that I just saw at my dentist yesterday are not going to be repeated for 2013. You want to reduce your visibility like that? You want NASCAR to be the only major league racing series in America with new looking cars for 2013? Can you afford to do that? Can you afford to continue to disinterest the millions of "car guys" out there who subscribe to Road & Track or Car & Driver, but who currently blow you off as being "technically uninteresting"? Can you afford to piss off all of your current fans who are looking forward to another something brand new for next year?

Hey, you guys can do whatever you want. You're all rich, to one extent or another, and the couple of t-shirts and race tickets that I buy every year don't mean a whole lot to your bottom line, in the grand scheme. But I know that I am not the only person who will take a long, hard look in the mirror when it comes to his IndyCar fandom if the aerokit rug gets pulled out from under his feet. Again. One of these days, it's going to be one time too many.

Have a safe and competitive weekend at Texas. We'll talk again soon.

Best Regards,
The Speedgeek

2 comments:

newtrackrecord said...

Andy

Even thought I am still holding a grudge from Race Day, I completely agree with your sentiments. My perspective: The "big" teams don't want anything that they can't control evening the playing field for the little guys. The "small" teams don't want to spend more money. Politics and bedfellows, as the quote goes.

At Indy next year, I think I'll fly a "New Track Record" flag and host a breakfast tweet-up. You in?

The Speedgeek said...

Thanks for the comment, Mark. As for next year? You had me at "breakfast". You're on. I'll bring the sausage.