More Of The Same

Over the weekend, one of the co-owners of Champ Car told the media that there is not now, nor is there expected to be, any possibility of a merger between the Indy Racing League and what used to be Championship Auto Racing Teams.

Ho hum.

Why is this interesting? Well, if you’re a fan of open-wheel racing in this country, it’s nice to know that the parties involved would rather hold their collective breath and turn blue while NASCAR continues to lay a first-class butt-whipping on them.

I’m not naïve enough to believe, especially after covering this story from its very beginning, that a merger would be the cure to all the ills of open-wheel racing in the United States. The problems are too numerous to mention here, but the edited version reads: no “name” drivers to build a fan base around, short fields and the market presence of a Cub Scout Picnic whenever NASCAR is within two time zones.

That’s on both the IRL and Champ Car sides, not just one. The IRL has a “name” driver, Danica Patrick, but at this point it’s merely a hothouse indulgence around a pretty good little driver who happens to be a woman. The rest of the driver lineup—Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves and the Fab Four from Andretti-Green—doesn’t exactly put fans in mind of Foyt, Mears (Rick, not Casey), Johncock and Sneva, assuming any of today’s fans recognize any of those names in the first place.

Champ Car has Jimmy Vasser, Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais. The rest of the Champ Car field could just as easily be racing in the Tour de France as at Long Beach. Temo Glock is cool, admittedly, but there’s a huge name-recognition morass at the back end of both series.

Now comes news that Dan Wheldon—who actually won the Indianapolis 500, Danica-mania notwithstanding—is looking at NASCAR, along with Hornish, Adrian Fernandez and A.J. Foyt IV.

Would it not be better to build on the combined aspects of both series in an attempt to at least be a speed bump in NASCAR’s path? Apparently not. While I’m cracking wise about this, it is something I feel very strongly about, and it pains me to realize that with the present power structure, it may never happen.

You can’t fault the IRL, though many still do, for fracturing open-wheel racing in the first place. That honor goes to Roger Penske, Pat Patrick, Carl Haas, et al, who led the first coup back in 1978 when CART was formed. The problem then was the same as it is now, only different in scale. It’s about control. Always has been, always will be, and until somebody—whether it be Tony George, Kevin Kalkhoven, Gerry Forsythe or a player to be named—figures out that a force united is twice as effective as a force divided.

Open-wheel racing, once the end-all, be-all of American motorsports, has given way to NASCAR, and that isn’t news. Whether it will be for all time or not remains to be seen.

P.S. Happy birthday to Jordan Lemasters, who turns 7 today. She’s twice the driver Hector Rebaque ever was!

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