Help Not Wanted

INDIANAPOLIS - Memorial Day is finally upon us and as the nation gets ready for summer, race fans settle in for one of the biggest weekends in motorsports.

And for the 91st year, the attention - or some of it anyway - will be on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It's been 12 years since the great open wheel split divided the sport and ruined it as well as the Indianapolis 500. At this point, I'm tired of pointing fingers and playing the blame game, as there is plenty to go around.

Rather than continue to pile on regarding the race's decline, I'd rather concentrate on ways to help fix what was once known as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

In the more than a decade since open wheel racing committed suicide, there has been a parade of marketing gurus prancing in and out of the offices at 16th Street and Georgetown.

Most everyone has failed miserably in an attempt to raise the awareness and exposure of this once great event.

From John Mellencamp's model wife to Gene Simmons (and when you think motorsports marketing folks, who else but the lead singer of KISS comes to mind?), the Indy Racing League and IMS have continually flopped in its efforts to return the 500 to its former glory.

Like it or not, NASCAR is the most popular form of racing in the world. But rather than try to align itself with or take advantage of the possibilities to help itself by working with NASCAR, the Indy Car set has opted to try and distance itself as much as possible.

Panther Racing headman John Barnes was nearly tarred and feathered when he suggested the IndyCar Series should run a few companion races with the NEXTEL Cup Series, even if it meant playing the under card on a Saturday.

That makes too much sense. Why would you want to put your product in front of 1,000 times more people, in the grandstands and on television, than a stand-alone race?

I guarantee that if some NASCAR fans saw the kind of show the IndyCar Series puts on at 1.5-mile tracks like Chicagoland Speedway or Kansas Speedway or Texas Motor Speedway, they'd at least be impressed enough to take a look the next week on television.

But nope, there won't be any Cup-IRL doubleheaders in the near future.

There's a strong contingent of open wheel supporters within the NASCAR community, most notably Tony Stewart, who still have an allegiance and fondness for the sport.

But again, rather than embracing this group, which includes Kasey Kahne, Robby Gordon and Ryan Newman, all pretty recognizable names in the sports world these days thanks to NASCAR's popularity, the IRL shuns them.

It is now impossible for any driver to try and do what was known as "The Double," running the 500 and then jetting down to Charlotte for Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600.


Because in its infinite wisdom, the track has pushed the start time of the race back an hour, making it logistically impossible for any driver to turn the trick.

The move was done to "accommodate" the west coast television audience and start the race at a more attractive time.

Guess what? The television audience would be much larger if a handful of NASCAR drivers were in the 500 field.

The sad truth is that the Indy 500 will never be what it was in its heyday without some significant moves.

Some of those ideas are simple.

Getting the people who run the sport and the race to implement them is not.

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