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Cars and Drivers
Re: Tee Vee Recap

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By Fireballs
June 2, 2006

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IRL and CART have done a tremendous job of killing American open wheel racing.

I worked for an Indycar team for 4 years in the good old days before the split, so of course I have an opinion on this. Despite CART's many peculiarities, I can't place very much of the blame on them. As I see it, the origin of the split and the subsequent downfall was the Old Guard at USAC who wanted the open wheel world to freeze in 1958 with front engine Offys, hand hammered cigar bodies, gritty faces and goggles. Seriously. Tony George was just along for the ride since he was surrounded exclusively by the Old Guard. In creating the IRL, they attempted to roll back time.

Consider the only other racing series USAC controlled at the time: non-winged sprint cars and midgets. They came as close to that model as they could with the IRL. Although not stated directly, their primary objection to CART was the fact that the cars required a road racing skill set rather than a dirt oval skill set. The Old Guard's breaking point was Steve Kinser's inability to qualify in '94 and '95.

Along with the road racing skill set came a lot of non-American drivers, but it didn't have to become a majority. That's the portion of the blame I place on CART team owners. As you may have noticed, they still haven't learned that American racing fans want to root for American drivers duking it out among themselves. Their TV ratings bear this out quite clearly. Even reunification won't bring the fans back if none of the new drivers are American.

CART/Champ Car has been irrelevant since the split and they darned well know it. It's like running in the other horse racing series that isn't allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

Despite its current status as something other than a competition among the best of the best, the Indy 500 is still THE open wheel event of the year. Nothing else matters.

It's unfortunate that Champ Car has become a spec car series too. I designed all of the suspension and lots of other stuff on all of Swift's Champ Cars, but only Mikey was able to produce strong results for us and we got really tired of the Andretti luck. Swift's inability to sell cars to more than one first-tier team was our downfall. It was fun while it lasted.

Neil


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