Opinion: Indy Car Off Track - Again


Clouds of uncertainty and doubt have formed over the IZOD IndyCar Series as it moves through the off-season. (Photo: Getty Images)

The IZOD IndyCar Series should thank its lucky stars for the National Hockey League.

Without the stupidity of the NHL experiencing its third work stoppage in a decade, American open-wheel racing would be the worst professional sports league in the country.

Since the infamous CART-IRL war of the mid-1990s, Indy car racing has gone through several incarnations in hopes of returning to the glory days it once enjoyed.  But any progress, as small as it might be, has been quickly eradicated by greed, shortsightedness and absolutely zero direction.

Now, the sport is struggling to stay alive and find even a shred of relevance - let alone ever challenging NASCAR for American motor sports prominence, as once seemed possible.

There actually was a time when Indy car racing was more popular than NASCAR with tremendous attendance, solid corporate sponsorship and higher television ratings.  But that's ancient history and even with NASCAR’s recent downturn, big-league stock car racing dwarfs today’s IndyCar Series.

There was actually some improvements made this past season with the introduction of a new car and a competitive on-track product.  While TV ratings remained abysmal, attendance in at least some venues was encouraging.

However, that foundation may very well be completely erased with this week’s decision to run off CEO Randy Bernard.

Once again, the inmates that insist on running the asylum - namely a group of car owners - have decided that reason and fresh ideas are no way to run a racing series.  So after three years of doing what he could to bring back to life the dead corpse of Indy car racing, Bernard was sent packing.

Former Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IRL founder Tony George tried again to wrest control of the series from the IMS Board of Directors that oversees the circuit.  But so far, he’s been rebuffed and the decision makers continue on their latest path of self-destruction.

Bernard’s track record certainly wasn’t perfect.  In the end, spending more than the projected budget was probably his downfall - with circumstances like the cancelled China race bleeding red ink expediting his exit.  But there’s no arguing that the former head of the Professional Bull Riders circuit brought out-of-the-box thinking to the moribund world of Indy car competition.

Bernard helped usher in a new car, brought back the Triple Crown from the sport’s past and tried to spice the schedule up with the doubleheader concept that will be part of next year’s schedule.

But now, there’s no telling what lies ahead.  Open-wheel loyalists were outraged at my recent suggestion the series concept simply go away and all focus be put on the only Indy car race that remotely matters, the Indianapolis 500.

But the reality is that even “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has lost most of its luster and this latest misstep by the powers that be won’t help the cause.

Indy car racing has, sadly, lost its way ... again.

The question is not only who will try to lead it back but if anyone really cares.

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