After more than a year apart, the IZOD IndyCar Series and Watkins Glen International are talking again, with plans to pick up the conversation in the new year. Since IndyCar’s last visit to Schuyler County in July 2010, the series has undergone somewhat of an epiphany.
Some things just need to happen, even if the statistics suggest otherwise.
The Super Bowl was supposed to be a flash in the pan. Michael Jordan was going to dedicate himself to baseball. The Rolling Stones couldn’t thrive without Brian Jones. The Spruce Goose would never fly. Ross and Rachel were done for good.
After more than a year apart, the IZOD IndyCar Series and Watkins Glen International are talking again, with plans to pick up the conversation in the new year.
Since IndyCar’s last visit to Schuyler County in July 2010, the series has undergone somewhat of an epiphany.
Randy Bernard took over the newly merged open-wheel racing sanctioning body in February 2010 and immediately went to work, courting new designers and engine manufacturers, securing a series sponsor and injecting the kind of optimistic enthusiasm the sport desperately lacked since the schism. He made one slight miscalculation: snubbing the most powerful and influential entity in the auto racing industry –– International Speedway Corp.
Bernard dropped all ISC-owned tracks, Watkins Glen included, from the 2011 schedule. From everything written and said, this was not an IndyCar plot against ISC, but cutting off four tracks under the same corporate umbrella sure doesn’t reinforce those claims. That’s akin to walking into a board meeting, slapping the CEO with a leather driving glove and walking away while twirling your cane. Sure it felt good, maybe even made a statement, but good luck getting any favors in the future.
Despite Bernard’s swashbuckling, ill-advised moves into New Hampshire and Las Vegas with ISC’s chief rival –– the Bruton Smith-led Speedway Motorsports Inc. –– backfired in the worst ways imaginable.
No one can be faulted for the weekend-long series of rain showers that spoiled IndyCar’s return to New Hampshire. But when one of Bernard’s lieutenants ordered a restart on a wet track, wiping out several cars, including championship contender Will Power, the mistrust of the series chief steward that had been bubbling under the surface boiled over. It took another four months to relieve Brian Barnhart of those specific duties, but he’s still an advisor.
All season attendance had been an issue, especially at Milwaukee, and it really hit home in the much-hyped season finale in Las Vegas –– Oct. 16, 2011 was designated by fate to be one of IndyCar’s blackest hours.
A sparse crowd settled into their seats for a race unlike anything the series had attempted before, putting a field of 30-plus cars on a 1.5-mile banked D-oval with a big pay day as the backdrop to a championship battle that was in a dead heat after 16 of 17 rounds. The race was supposed to be an epic celebration of a vibrant series on its way back up, even as drivers stressed about the potential racing conditions of cars stacked on each other at more than 200 mph.
Twelve laps into the race, it happened –– a massive crash that killed Dan Wheldon. The race was never completed. Dario Franchitti won the title on a tiebreaker. A wounded and heartbroken series limped into the offseason and began to re-think its place in auto racing. Suddenly, NASCAR-style ovals weren’t part of the plan anymore, leaving precious few facilities capable of hosting the fast, low-slung cars available.
When IndyCar left WGI off the 2011 schedule, no one was happy about it. Frankly, it was a mistake on part of both parties to not negotiate a deal, rather than digging their heels in and waiting for the other to blink. I’m not saying each side didn’t have their reasons –– real or imagined –– but when everyone tells –– no, begs –– you not to leave, it’s probably a good idea to listen and work something out.
In the place of an IndyCar race last summer, The Glen hosted a concert –– one which not only attracted more people than any of the Indy Grands Prix did before, but also catered to a demographic never thought possible by a race track: modern-day hippies. Thirty thousand of them. Still, racing is what The Glen does best and is one of America’s Big 3 in terms of history and heritage.
IndyCar and WGI need to get a deal done for 2013. Maybe the track needs to add an incentive to the ticket, like another touring series –– think NASCAR trucks, the Rolex Series or, maybe, the DTM cars (please note I have no inside info on this, just throwing that one in to satisfy my own fantastical scenario). To that end, IndyCar needs to be open to A) sharing a twin bill and B) come down on the sanctioning fee a bit. A big bit.
It makes zero sense for IndyCar to not return to The Glen. Both sides need to enjoy the holidays, and then work their butts off to make this happen again.
Barry Bonds lied to the feds, got caught and now might have to spend 30 days under house arrest. I don’t believe this is punishment –– not for a man who lives in a palatial mansion with all the perks imaginable.
Shawn Vargo, sports editor for The Corning Leader in New York, suggests while under house arrest, Bonds must have 10 inmates move in with him. I suggested he live for 30 days in one of our homes, under our rules. That would mean baseball’s home run king couldn’t watch TV until I was done playing Arkham City on Xbox, eight hours later.
If a high school kid runs cross country, indoor track and track and field in the spring, is that person considered a three-sport athlete? Essentially, it’s still running ... Not making the fantasy football playoffs is like the NFL season ended early. Some cold, dark days ahead ... Roughly one-third of the way through the NHL season, and there have been six coaching changes. Hockey’s weird.
* Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader in New York, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.