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Monday, December 27, 2010

Sealing the Cracks That Caused the Split

My good friend Tony Johns over at Pop Off Valve likes to say that bantering over Twitter enhances social media usage by those of us who like to create content for the web. I've always been a little more wary of it.

Part of it is because I always like to have a hard-news-only option (hence the creation of a site account @OpnWhlAmerica), but part of it is because I don't feel like some of the more mundane experiences of my life really merit tweeting about. (I have to admit, I love Graham Rahal as a driver, but following his account isn't particularly enriching.)

This all changed for me over the holiday season.

With no other outlet to express the frustration and comedy of a Christmas Eve dinner gone somewhat awry, I took to the Twitterverse with the story of my 92-year-old grandfather figuring out that he was, indeed, home. One of the more entertaining stories I've ever had to tell, even in its simplicity and lack of two-way dialogue, it opened me up a little more to the idea of using social media to bring people into my life.

Then, in the wee hours of Boxing Day night, I let loose an even more frustrated nugget go: "Never letting longtime dating partners try to work out their shit in my apartment again. Sitting outside wondering what the fuck happened."

Throwing all caution to the wind, three of my closest friends had a small party in my apartment last night, spending an hour traveling to Boston in the midst of a noreaster that has proved catastrophic for any car unfortunate enough to be parked on a public road and most airports. Most of the night was a good time - fun, games, a lot of cathartic stories told between a bunch of people who have known each other for a long time. It would also be a good night for the former couple of two years to spend time with each other in the company of friends, perhaps providing an impetus for them to work out their differences.

Then, of course, things started to go wrong. The differences that caused the couple to split up in the first place, nearly a year ago, came back to the forefront. They tried to be better than one another. They complained about little things. The cracks that caused the split were only widening once again.

Things got heated, with the other friend and I removing ourselves from the room so the couple could do their thing, before we split them up to talk to them individually. The rest of the night was a big mess of awkward, bothered folks who didn't sleep very well or have their senses about them for much of the morning.

We basically concluded this: they need to figure out how to close the book, or at least come to a satisfactory point of renewal, because although things are on the road, they need to tie up some loose ends and get things right. Each side has their strong points and their flaws, but somehow every festering wound needs to be aided, every unplugged crack needs to be sealed, every broken lamp needs to be superglued back together before both sides can be satisfied. Both sides need to respect each other as equals, complete and inarguable equals, and until then, that can't happen.

Now, at the risk of going Roy Hobbson on you all, the question at hand here is simply: What the HELL does this lengthy anecdote have to do with IndyCar?

You've probably heard by now that the sport is finally taking two huge steps to bring it back where it once was. The first, of course, is bringing technology back to the forefront, making it matter, and making higher standards a possibility (if not immediate reality) for a new generation of fans. That's big - it brings back many of the people who bought into the open-development of CART and Champ Car, the technological advances that those series liked to bring to the table, and perhaps our first new track records at Indianapolis since the very beginning of the "split."

But the second step is to finally combine all American open wheel records into one record book. USAC or CART, IndyCar or Champ Car, they're all being brought together officially for the first time. Less physical than psychological, it's just another important instance on the road to complete unification.

For a long time, American open-wheel racing was torn apart by two very distinct schools of thought. One was the Tony George opinion, that the sport should be more like NASCAR, with more ovals and American drivers. Those in power in CART in the early 1990s were greater proponents of bringing in European drivers and fashioning the sport into an American Formula 1. George created the Indy Racing League as a backlash against it, and for 12 years the "split" festered.

When IndyCar bought out Champ Car in 2008, it was only the first, biggest step. There were still hard feelings. Four or five race teams went out of business, and some top Champ Car drivers to this day struggle to land rides. The Champ Car teams, having no more use for their cars, setup notes, and some equipment, were faced with a major competitive disadvantage. Now, they're not so much disadvantaged as they are still viewed differently; generally, owing to their road-course-only heritage, they mostly hire road course specialists, and former IRL teams often do the opposite.

Of course, we've made plenty of progress in these past three years. I say enough about Randy Bernard and Mike Kelly and what they do for the sport - while that's important, let's focus on some of the smaller things for a second. Some ex-IRL squads, like Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, have employed road course specialists like Justin Wilson, while Conquest Racing and Dale Coyne Racing have embraced development drivers from Firestone Indy Lights instead of the Atlantic Championship, Champ Car's former development series. The schedule is now an even mix of ovals and road courses. And with the record books being fixed, putting everything in one place, it's just another step forward, eliminating yet another point of contention.

American open-wheel fans are much like the feuding couple in my apartment from last night. Both sides want the same thing - complete unification - even if they may hesitate to admit it. It's best for both of them. Except, of course, each side wants things to go their way and not the other's, so things remain heated and some problems stay unsolved.

But enough time has passed that they should come to some mutual understanding and try to get it right. There will still be some fights and bitterness, but by this point, it's really time to put it all in the past, come back together, and start anew.

Maybe I'm a couple years too late with this post. Maybe not. I still see the dividing line in the sport between the IRLers and the Champ Car folks rear its ugly head now and again. There are still some loose ends to be tied up. Embracing the old sanctioning body's philosophy on car development is great. But combining the sport's record books recognizes the defeated series as the victorious one's equal... well, you can't ask for much more than that internal validation.

That's what the feuding couple needs, and it's what IndyCar needs, too, before things can be completely fixed - for both sides to recognize one another as equals. We're on the way, we're getting close, but we're not there yet.

Like Tony's hashtag said when he tweeted about the combined record books, it's about time it happens.


  1. Spot-on, good analogy.

    On another note, your friends were brave to face that weather you were having out there! Heard it was pretty rough.

  2. I am obviously partial to such seemingly non-sequitur (life-y) types of things, but this is WONDERFUL! Well played, Christopher.

    When I worked for IndyCar, I only worked under one rule: make the posts interesting even to NON-IndyCar fans. It's way harder than it sounds, and it's not like I often succeeded. But the point is, interesting writing is interesting writing. And THIS is interesting writing.

    Again, well done.