And after five years of unity…you, me, everybody involved has a pretty firm grasp on how Indy car racing was hurt by The Split. It ain't what it was: we must stop lamenting this. It is what it is: we must accept this. But we must also believe in what it could be and strive toward that. Actually, we know what it could be because of our appreciation of the sport's history. Compare the core product with the core product 20 years ago. The cars are less spectacular, yes – and the objectives I believe must be met will go into in the next “Here's hoping” column on Friday. But I'm convinced the racing and the driver talent pool are at least as strong, even if the names involved are no longer high-profile…because the series isn't. The title “IndyCar” still is recognizable to the man in the street. The Mazda Road to Indy is a logical structure that is the envy of Europe, as John Surtees pointed out just last week. And the dearth of places in F1 for the emerging European-bred talents should be a godsend to IndyCar.
You see, there are positives. Fall into the trap of grumbling that it's all broken, and we become part of the problem, when what's needed are solutions for the areas that genuinely are broken. Can Belskus, Miles and Co. provide those solutions? We have to give them that chance, because the essence of this sport is still present and is bigger than any individual or any governing body…although I confess it's hard to contemplate U.S. open-wheel racing's path had Tony Hulman not rescued the Speedway in 1945.
My point is, we never fell in love with IndyCar because of the board members on AAA, USAC or CART, or because we adored Tony George, Andrew Craig, Kalkhoven or Bernard. What drew us was the wail of a Novi engine, a Mario Andretti opening lap, the way Indy's Turn 1 apparently exits into 220mph oblivion, the lines of a Penske PC22, a silky super-quick pole lap by Rick Mears around Phoenix, the thick black lines left by a car getting sideways through the final turns at Toronto, the unbridled enthusiasm of a Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti's statesmanship, the elegance of a Chaparral 2K, the eloquence of a Gil de Ferran, the indomitable spirit of an A.J. Foyt.
Pick your era, pick your drivers, pick your cars – all choices are understandable. But remember too, that today, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Scott Dixon and yes, even the car-that-only-its-designer-could-love Dallara DW12 are what could draw your child or grandchild into IndyCar fandom.
In turn, the series must acknowledge that it is in charge of something precious and though chances are given, respect is earned. We can't have anyone at IndyCar or the IMS going into work each day wondering if they might get fired because of a power struggle within the ranks; that breeds an atmosphere in which people try to cover their own backsides and try to make their wage, and lose sight of their primary purpose – making IndyCar successful.
Also, potential investors want to see a clear route forward, continuity, a coherent mission statement, a governing body populated by smart business people and enthusiasts…and a sport that is able to not only capture the imagination of the grandstand spectator but also transmit the excitement to the TV viewer. When I first saw the footage of Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears dueling for the 1982 Indy 500 and heard that crowd roar, I got goosebumps and a dry throat (despite knowing the outcome!) and I wanted nothing more than to be there in the throng that day. And I'd bet many people watching on TV felt the same way as Takuma Sato battled the Ganassi cars in the closing stages of last year's 500, or as the late Dan Wheldon streaked past the wrecking JR Hildebrand the year before. There, too, is something that IndyCar and particularly the Indy 500 has not lost and which must be safeguarded forever.
The media has a responsibility too. Since Randy Bernard's departure, many fake tears of anguish have been shed by media members whose self-serving determination to be first with “news” provided ammo for RB's opponents and struck increasing levels of doubt into the minds of even his so-called allies who seemed to take this drivel for real. But how seriously can you take a hunter who pretends to sympathize with the animal he's stalking? With monotonous regularity from midseason on, there were stories that contained no attributed quotes, stories that dredged up past squabbles but were made to look like recent developments, tweets that spread idle gossip while assuming the stance of outrage…. And all for what? Well, I think we know the answer to that: self-glorification. They came from people ambivalent about Indy car racing but deeply in love with themselves and their self-proclaimed status.
I'm sometimes annoyed by documentaries and movies that almost by default portray journalists as jackals and jackasses, but then I see the quality of some race reporters' work and wonder if allowing them to have laptops and a platform is as irresponsible as allowing a baby to play with razor blades and a bottle of bleach. The difference is that these so-called writers don't just hurt themselves. I'm not saying they should bury bad news nor that they shouldn't dig up dirt: journalists on a leash aren't journalists. And if an opinion piece is written well, I can enjoy it whether the author's bias agrees or disagrees with my own. But writers need to have some self-awareness and judgment in order to avoid being used as the mouthpiece of the bitter and deluded whose vested interests discolor the top categories of motorsports. For everyone's sake, all media members have to make sure that the message they're conveying is truthful, newsworthy and that airing it truly is for the common good. Woodward and Bernstein weren't looking for more Twitter followers.
Later this week, I'll express our hopes for the future development and technical direction of IndyCar, whereas I'm aware this op-ed piece comes across more as a rallying cry. There's optimism in my opinions (an op-op-ed?) because, although there are parts to IndyCar that have been broken, I believe they're fixable if given urgent attention and if acted upon decisively and correctly. Sadly, the TV deal can't be remedied in the short term, so let's just be grateful that the NBC Sports Network's coverage is far stronger than its reach – the direct opposite of the ABC deal, in fact.
Miles, Belskus, Greene and Boles do not dwell in an ivory tower: they'll be aware that their new/expanded positions of prominence mean there will be a period of caution, even suspicion, from those who regarded Bernard as having the potential to be IndyCar's white knight. There were many of us. Thanks to the internet and social media, managerial errors will be gossiped about by fans who care about Indy car racing, the vindictive ones will come up with the smug “I told you so” lines, while rival series – and let's face it, they're all rival series! – will try to take advantage of any flaws, real or merely perceived. 'Twas ever thus. But the suits in charge must not allow this to scare them into doing nothing. Belskus and Miles, in particular, will need to be accountable for the bad as well as the good in the IZOD IndyCar Series and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But they should also take heart from the fact that they aren't confronted by ruins or wasteland. Whatever their opinions of Randy B., he shaped a 2013 season that holds much promise, so that now his replacements have over 100 years of history and a good core product as foundations for 2014 and beyond. It's the new management's duty and privilege to build on it a highly durable, highly efficient yet also highly ambitious structure. And if we want IndyCar to thrive, it's our obligation as fans to not tear it down before it has even taken shape.