Wednesday, October 25, 2006

COMMENTARY: Shooting The Messenger

I expected the Open Wheel community to be upset over A.J. Allmendinger’s jump to the NASCAR ranks yesterday. I also figured my views on the rationale behind the move might ruffle a few feathers.

I was right on both counts.

I received a couple of angry e-mails from listeners after leaving the air last night, disagreeing with my contention that IRL and Champ Car are in danger of becoming Nextel Cup feeder series’, just like NASCAR’s Busch and Craftsman Truck Tours. Listener Dave Fothergill left little question about where he stands on the subject, writing, “You guys might as well make the switch to a full time NASCAR talk show and drop any discussion of the other forms of motorsports. Although some of the comments you guys made today were justified, the overall vilification of open wheel racing in North America has made it clear that Sirius Speedway really only cares about what's happening in the world of stock cars.

Hopefully, we open-wheel race fans will be given a radio voice that knows, and more importantly, cares about the state of Champ Car and the IRL, and is willing to discuss it without the requisite verbal put-downs.”


Mr. Fothergill, I feel your pain. But I also think you have a short memory when it comes to this show.

For the record, Sirius Speedway has covered Open Wheel racing – both Champ Car and the Indy Racing League – since our first day on the air. During the CART bankruptcy process, we kept listeners informed on the bidding war between Champ Car’s Kevin Kalhoven, Gerald Forsythe and Paul Gentillozzi, and IRL’s Tony George. We analyzed the means and motives of all parties, called in some of the most knowledgeable people in the business to get their take, and laid the facts out as best we could to let our listeners draw an accurate conclusion.

We have been on the front lines of the IRL/Champ Car “reunification” debate from the beginning, honestly assessing the chances for a merger, talking with Open Wheel insiders to get their informed opinions, and offering our honest assessment on what ultimately turned out to be much ado about nothing.

Over the past three years I have repeatedly stated my view that both Champ Car and IRL are slowly heading down the road to ruin, simply to satisfy the colossal egos of their respective owners. On that count, many of the sport’s most knowledgeable minds seem to agree with me. Now, with drivers like Allmendinger, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, Max Papis, Sam Hornish, Patrick Carpentier, Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain, Jr., all turning to NASCAR to one degree or another, it seems obvious that many of Open Wheel racing’s brightest stars have seen the writing on the wall, as well.

Take a good, honest look at what’s going on, and tell me if most of the meaningful traffic in Open Wheel racing these days doesn’t seem to be heading out of town.

Robin Miller, one of Open Wheel racing’s most respected writers, wrote on SPEEDTV.com this week, “Besides being a PR disaster for Champ Car…it's an emotional blow, because a winning American is exactly what this series desperately needs to win back its fan base.”

I see it, and Robin Miller obviously sees it. Mr. Fothergill, what are you missing?

NASCAR’s television ratings regularly dwarf those of the Indy Racing League and Champ Car World Series. Most weekends, NASCAR’s Saturday afternoon Busch Series race draws more viewers than both Open Wheel events, combined! NASCAR recently signed a new eight-year, $4.4 billion deal with four different networks; FOX, TNT, ABC/ESPN and SPEED. Champ Car and IRL pay to get their races on TV, because nobody will air them otherwise. Roush Racing boasts more corporate sponsorship than the entire starting lineup at most Champ Car or Indy Racing League events, and more cars attempt to qualify for the average Nextel Cup race than for the IRL and Champ Car race, combined.

With all that said, I have just one question for Mr. Fothergill and his merry band of Open Wheel apologists.

Am I the one with the blind spot here, or is it you?

I do not speak critically of Open Wheel racing because I enjoy seeing it fail. On the contrary. I bemoan the current state of Open Wheel racing because I love all motorsports, and hate to see a once-proud group struggle so pitifully. I am old enough to remember the day – not so long ago – when if you asked a child to draw a picture of a racecar, he would draw an Indy Car. Today, he would break out the Crayolas and draw a picture of Jeff Gordon and the Dupont Chevrolet.

NASCAR has spirited away most of Open Wheel’s fan base, and most of its corporate support, as well. Now, it has begun the process of skimming the best drivers from the top of the Open Wheel pot. The series that gave us Andretti, the Unsers, Mears and Foyt has fallen from its lofty perch, and impact with the ground is fast approaching. Somebody needs to pull the rip cord, but unfortunately, the men that run both the IRL and Champ Car continue to insist that they’re flying, not falling.

We will continue to chronicle that story as it unfolds, and I will continue to criticize those who are selfishly allowing it to happen.

Shoot the messenger if you like.

5 comments:

  1. MJ (91 CTS team photog/media guy)2:47 PM

    As a kid I grew up watching just as much open wheel racing as I did NASCAR. I grew up a fan of Rick Mears and the Penski teams. Moody you are right it is in danger of becoming a feeder series if it already hasn't done so. I don't watch open wheel racing like I use too because of the path it has taken. As for the show I hear everything I want to hear and that is all forms of Racing. Yes NASCAR rules the majority but I hear Drag Racing and open wheel and all sorts of racing which is why I love the show. Open wheel racing has really done a poor job in the past decade not Sirius Speedway. Blame the guys who ruined Open Wheel.

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  2. "What are you missing" is the question posed to Mr. Fothergill by Dave.

    The obvious answer is reality.

    NASCAR has always held a certain draw to open wheelers, witness the other and more famous A.J. - Foyt and Mario Andretti, but as the OW split has fractured its fan base.

    NASCAR has been on the rise since the beginning of the "Jeff Gordon Era" (someone who in past times would have moved into Indy racing) while through mis-management and the two hard-headed egotists involved can hardly speak to each other let alone sit down and settle differences for the betterment of the sport as a whole and for themselves.

    Dave I'm one of those kids that grew up drawing pictures of front engined Offy's yet relished Mario's first and only win in a rear engined car.

    Thought Granatelli's tubines brought both needed publicity and a certain "spice" to Indy.

    Today, why bother. IRL puts on some good action, but only between a couple of teams in a field size that can be counted on ten fingers and a couple toes.

    Same can be said for CCWS.

    Mr. Fothergill, get out of that forest you'd be better able to see the trees.

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  3. Dave Fothergill1:44 AM

    Hiya Dave,
    Before I sound off, let me be clear on a couple of things. First off, I love the show irrespective of our differences regarding this particular issue. Second, it really bites that we can’t call from Canada, because I would have much preferred to have been able to “defend” myself at the time, instead of having to do a slow burn for the afternoon and evening. But onto the meat of the debate.
    Between the opening salvo on the show, and the subsequent web posting, you make a tremendous number of assumptions regarding my position and beliefs. Your assumptions are incorrect.
    I’ve re-read my original post, and find nothing in it that indicates my state of mind as it relates to the current landscape of open-wheel racing in North America. You assume I’m blithely going on, oblivious to the problems associated with the current split, lack of corporate support and dwindling public perception of the once proud series.
    Nothing could be further from the truth. I hate what has happened. Fracturing the series was, quite possibly, the death knell for open-wheeled racing on this continent, at least in the form of a major series. Will Champ Car and the IRL become feeder series’ – the possibility seems quite likely. It will certainly take someone smarter than I to repair the damage, and take many years of hard work to bring them back to something even remotely close to what they were prior to the split. But I do believe there is a strong enough core fan base that it *can* be accomplished.
    Anyone who is paying attention knows the window for any type of recovery is closing fast. The “defection” of AJ Allmendinger is the latest in a series of events that should be serving as a wake up call to the “brain-trusts” in IRL and Champ car. Will it? Only time will tell.
    I could sit here for two hours and nit-pick the little things in both your diatribe on air, and the web posting, but that really doesn’t accomplish anything. I understand the basic points you were trying to make, and (surprisingly perhaps to you) agree with most of them.
    What I took issue with yesterday, and what prompted my comment was the flippant way the whole AJ Allmendinger issue was announced (including the giggling in studio regarding Champ Car’s reaction).
    And this is the rub of my argument with you. Do you not agree that a national radio show (and perhaps I overestimate your position in the media – but I don’t think so) can have some influence on the masses? Do you not think your show has the ability to help form opinions, create interest and get people to take a more active role in situations? I think you (and the show) are capable of just that. But you’re also capable of convincing some that open-wheel racing isn’t worth the bother any more (and that appears to be the tack you have taken). And this is why I said you should probably just stick to NASCAR. Those of us that continue to lobby the people heading Champ Car and the IRL to get their stuff together have a tough enough battle as it is.
    Thanks for the opportunity to respond.
    Regards
    Dave Fothergill

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  4. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Ken Squier wanna be doesn't know anything about open wheel racing

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  5. Sorry to be so long in responding, Dave. Your comments are valid, and deserve to be addressed.

    I do believe that you see the issues with Open Wheel racing; the devisiveness between IRL and Champ Car, the lack of top-notch American talent, and the inability of good young drivers to find a ride without a rich daddy or $3 million in corporate backing tp ay their way.

    My "flippant" announcement (your word) on A.J. Allmendinger's move to NASCAR was in no way indicative of any pleasure I take in seeing Champ Car and/or IRL lose their drivers. It was a response to the many Open Wheel fans who gleefully told me I was "full of crap" when I predicted this, more than a month ago. Many Open Wheel fans believed that the prestige of the Vanderbilt Cup would be enough to counteract the offer of a multi-million dollar contract, and the total devotion of a well-funded team and manufacturer. I knew better, and took some pleasure in being prven correct. If that's a weakness on my part, so be it. But rest assured, it was not directed at you.

    Your final paragraph is a most interesting one. I do agree that our show (and others like it) has some influence on public opinion. I like to think that we present a wide variety of viewpoints, and allow people to develop well thought-out positions of their own on the important issues of the day.

    Over the last three years, I have often commented on how both Champ Car and IRL are capable of putting on races every bit as good as anything seen in NASCAR. I have also remarked on the great personalities in Open Wheel racing, urging listeners to give the series' a fair shot.

    However, it is absolutely NOT my job to serve as a cheerleader for a pair of series' that are (IMO) quickly becoming less deserving of their ticket-buying dollar.

    It's not my job to make things easier for Champ Car and IRL by ignoring their shortcomings and missteps, any more than it is my job to let NASCAR off the hook for its ludicrous qualifying procedure. My job is to report accurately on motorsports, and offer my opinions in an iinsightful and entertaining manner.

    I hope that I accomplish that goal, most days. I appreciate you taking the time to write, and to listen. You don't have to agree with the host to be welcome around here.

    All the best --

    Dave Moody

    P.S. -- To "Anonymous;" take a lesson from Dave Fothergill and realize that any position you're not willing to stand behind isn't much of an position. If you haven't got the backbone to sign your name, your opinion carries no weight here

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