A Historical Day for Race Relations
Since 1996 American open wheel racing has been split between the IRL and rival CART and later Champ Car factions. This better rivalry has badly damaged open wheel racing in North America. Both sides to the war maintained that their series was superior. This war was motived by deep cultural and philosophical divisions.
The IRL initially promoted what it called an All-American type of oval racing that would allow promising American drivers to graduate from USAC midget, sprint, and silver crown cars to Indy cars. The IRL attempted to hold down cost by employing a thick rule book of specifications cars must follow. Turbochargers were banned. Aerodynamic innovations by teams were banned. One result from trying to manage competition by prohibiting innovation is that the most advanced technology developed in rival open wheel series, CART and Formula One. Oval racing produces the closest competition and increases passing opportunities. The IRL has received much deserved praise for its development of SAFER barriers which reduce the force of impact with oval walls during crashes.
CART, which was later renamed as Champ Car prided itself on its turbochargers, development of traction control, variable manifold pressure (Push 2 Pass), and continuous innovation in engine development. CART had more foreign drivers. In fact for today's final Champ Car race only three of the drivers were Americans (Graham Rahal, Jimmy Vasser, and Alex Figge). CART and Champ Car focused on road racing. Relatively few races were held on ovals. Some road races were held on permanant road courses like Road America, Mid-Ohio, and Watkins Glen. Others were held on tempory street courses like Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Long Beach, and Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland.
Historically there were many great Midwestern American drivers in open wheel racing. Open wheel racing was the most popular and technologically advance form of motorsport in North America. The earliest Indy 500 races launched numerous technological innovations, like the first automotive rear-view mirror. NASCAR was a regional, Southern sport. Indy was synonymous with innovation and ever increasing speed. Historically NASCAR actually raced stock cars. Stock cars are cheap but obviously not on the cutting edge of technology. NASCAR engine builders continue to build the most innovative carburated 1950's normally aspirated V-8 engines in the world. But the contributions of NASCAR to technological progress are a joke. Today at your local car dealer you will find only fuel-injected engines.
The open wheel split helped NASCAR, which continued to offer unified stock car racing, explode in popularity. The decision by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to hold a NASCAR stock car race beginning in 1994 coupled with the split lead many fans to follow NASCAR more and open wheel racing less. The greatest Midwestern American open wheel midget and sprint car drives, NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman, and 2006 Indy 500 champion Sam Hornish are all racing in NASCAR and will miss this year's Indy 500. Even foreign-born Indy 500 champions, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Jacques Villeneuve are over in NASCAR.
American Danica Patrick won the last IRL race at Motegi and Australian Will Power won the last Champ Car race in Long Beach, California. While there were two open wheel series this would have been a typical result. An American wins the IRL race, while a foreigner wins the Champ Car race. Now that the two series are merging Danica Patrick from Illinois, Graham Rahal from Ohio, and Ed Carpenter from Indiana will be the only Midwestern Americans in American open wheel racing. Formula One has not had an American champion since Mario Andretti. No Americans run at the front of the pack in Formula One.
How should we view the current state of racing today?
1. Which is preferable: vigorous technical competition under broad rules specifications that allow room for innovation or a specification series that tries to reduce racing advantages gained through research and development?
2. Should anti-lock braking, traction control, electronic stability assist be prohibited by racing rules?
3. Should U.S, immigration policies ban work visas for foreign racers? Can restrictive immigration policies protect American workers (slower race car drivers) from the "unfair" competition of fast drivers like Will Power, Scott Dixon, and Dan Wheldon? Or should the IRL just ban the evil Chavez sponsored, dangerous and slow Milka Duno. She is a human moving chicane.
4. Is IndyCar promoting wasteful big government through its Ethanol sponsorship and technical specifications requiring all competitors to use 100% ethanol? Champ Car used methanol.
5. Should sanctioning bodies make it possible for drivers to compete in several different types of races? Should the Indy 500 and NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 coordinate the timing of there races so drivers can compete in both races? Would this be collusion or an attempt to build better race relations?
6. Are we more unified as a nation now that NASCAR is winning the battle for motorsports fans? NASCAR appears to have the best American drivers from all over the nation. Will unification increase the popularity of open wheel racing throughout the nation or just in its historical midwestern base?
7. Will a future President Obama or perhaps a future President Gore ban auto racing as a sacrifice to their Earth Goddess?