Has George doomed open wheel?

July 11, 2008
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Officials for the Indy Racing League are pretty pleased with the way the first half of the season has gone. Last week at Watkins Glen, they announced yet another new series sponsor, Izod. Earlier this year, IRL officials inked deals with DirecTV, Coke and Frank’s Energy Drink.

Efforts to secure additional category sponsorships and a title sponsor are in full swing. The league’s sales efforts have increased dramatically and now include an individual whose sole responsibility is working directly with teams to assist in their efforts, said Terry Angstadt, who heads up the IRL’s commercial division.

Attendance has been up at almost every race, and races have shown television ratings increases in six of nine races to date, and ratings are up across the board on ABC (+4 percent), ESPN (+61 percent) and ESPN2 (+42 percent). Overall viewership is up 17 percent season to date compared to 2007.

IRL officials expect strong attendance and solid TV ratings at their next race in Nashville July 12. It airs at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

But fans of open-wheel racing seem split on the overall impact of the IRL unification with Champ Car, with one camp saying the series is better than last year and still improving, while another camp contends IRL boss Tony George has done irreversible damage to the sport.

So tell us, what camp are you in?
  • Those that are negative on the league this year likely are carrying baggage from years past and need to get over it. The sport will need time to grow/change and the damage that did occur won't be fixed overnight.

    I am somewhat biased as a long time IndyCar/IRL fan, but I will point out that I have become a huge fan of the KV Racing team, and actively support them each week. Additionally, next year my family and I will be traveling to Edmonton to see firsthand one of the ChampCar jewels.

    The racing has been tough to watch in recent weeks and a lot of improvements need to be made, but to think that any major sporting series can essentially double its size and run without issue borders on ridiculous. I for one agree that new engines & engine competition is needed, an upgrade to the chassis is in order, and more street/road courses are a welcome sight to the caution chaos of the short ovals, but the TG haters need to give it a chance to grow.

    Writing it off now is a big mistake, too much upside. Go IndyCar!
  • Tony George should not have to take all the blame for what has happened to open wheel racing. The problems started long before the split. When car owners took control of the series through CART, things began to spiral out of control. Then the series faced the retirement of the most popular drivers all within a few short years: Foyt, Unser Sr., Rahal, Andretti, Johncock, Mears, Rutherford, Bettenhausen, Snider, Fittipaldi, Sneva and others

    To me, the worst kick in the pants to open wheel racing was the beginning of the Brickyard 400. This one act essentially legitimized NASCAR. Prior to that, it was the king of the south only. I can understand why Tony did this as the owner of the Speedway, nonetheless, the damage was done. NASCAR became king.

    Now when we can finally begin to see the pieces falling into place, here we go again with the negatives. Yes there are many, but we all know it took many years to see the open wheel ship sink, and it will take many years to have smooth sailing in the eyes of fans.

    The IRL needs to focus their attention on what it takes to build the fan base. Case in point - the Colts, how many years did it take for fans to really get on board to be true blue. And how many years did it take for kids to wear the colors in abundance. The IRL needs to find ways to get youth interested in open wheel racing, because that is the building block for success in the future.

    As it always is with professional sports, money spoils everything in time. Look at the salaries and look at teams in small markets and how hard they have to fight to even stay competetive. Money helped destroy open wheel racing and it will ultimately do the same to NASCAR. As they continue to turn their back on their fan base that made them what they are and chase the fickle fans, they will find those fans may, in the future, turn on them. It only takes one issue, like the open wheel split, the baseball strike, the Pacer's thug implosion.

    As for me, I'm on board with where open wheel is headed, and I know it will take time to restore the once proud heritage. I think your title for this commentary is misleading. It wasn't just Tony from the beginning and it ain't just Tony any more.
  • Can we get more Blogs with headlines ending in periods rather than question
    marks? I want to know what IS happening, not what MIGHT happen.
  • First off, any skeptics are simply over critical to begin with. The recent merger hasn't had enough time for the impact to sink in. It is still very early, yet the signs are nearly all positive.

    The merger was essential and should have been done years ago. So now that it has, that's a positive. There should not be 2 open-wheel series, period.

    This creates full fields, more directed sponsership money, higher purses, more notariety, more fans around 1 series, and Tony George has by all accounts solidified open wheel, not doomed it.

    How could one even think the merger is negative. Open-wheel can't support 2 series. The IRL can now focus on its next few steps rather than how to work with a handicapped system bogged down by 2 series.

    Don't always judge the down side of something by it's cynics and skeptics, but there will always be way too many of those. The merger just happened, the long term impact is yet to be felt. So far so good for the IRL and hopefully they continue to grow, keep the big names, and maybe even lure others back (ahem, Tony Stewart, Dario Franchitti).
  • The only ones who are still upset are the c<rt/owrs/ccws faithful (about a dozen or so) who hate that their series failed repeatedly and cannot bring themselves to admit their business model was doomed to failure. I think what you posted along with some of the top automakers interest in building engines, shows TG's model is the right way.
  • I'm of the opinion that he rescued the Indy 500 out of fear CART would release a schedule without Indy on it in a power play attempt. So as I see it, he threatened to do it (create his own series) to gain more influence in the direction of the league. CART had no interest in appeasing him so he left their sandbox to start his own.

    It is hard to say one way or the other. But he did what he had to do in the best interest of his race. Regardless of what you think about him, you have to respect that. I think the league has momentum and is headed in the right direction. Now they just need to try and figure out how to pull a car off the track without 10 laps of caution.
  • Please get Formula One back and build IRL Open wheel to match the appeal of NASCAR.
  • The IRL is, was and will always be a niche sport in the hands of Lord Sagamore. The series creation was a knee jerk reaction to George (fresh out of rehab for cocaine) being rejected by CART owners at their meetings in Houston in 1991. Tony was handed the keys to IMS and has failed at every step. The Brickyard 400 has become as big if not bigger than the 500, he couldn't keep F-1 in town and knew of the Michelin tire fiasco in advance but did nothing to try and fix it. The IRL was a ride buyer, second tier driver series until the CART teams came over. George has had 13 years to grow his series and it is obvious to anyone who is not a place fan that OW is doomed under the leadership of the dysfunctional Hulman/George family.
  • A person doesn't have to be biased to realize that NASCAR is not as exciting racing or a better product than IndyCar. Time just needs to go by and IndyCar will slowly come back to prominence. There's a difference between cars racing and race cars and casual fans will get that again.
  • I think most of the IRL fans from the past years think that the unification was a good thing. I think that the CCWS folks are rightly disgruntled and perhaps even boycotting this year. They were kept in the dark until the last minute when it was announced that their league had been disbanded and they were stuck with the IRL or nothing. I'm sure we IRL fans would have been cheesed off if it had gone the other way. People plan vacations around races and all of the sudden the races don't exist. Most of the CCWS teams are at a disadvantage with the new (for them) ugly cars and awful-sounding engines that the IRL teams have had years to fine-tune to get the best performance. New chassis and engines are years away, so the great equalizer doesn't really exist for now. While Rahal won in St. Pete and Wilson and Servia are making pretty good showings, there is a clear advantage for those that know the cars and the tracks already.

    Nascar is having its own issues at this point and I think OWR is on the upswing. The economy is hurting race attendance in every series. Nascar venues that have always sold out have tickets available even on race day. People are just in a different financial condition. So, if attendance at IRL events is increasing in a year when Nascar attendance is decreasing, I would say that's a good start and a good indication that all is not lost.

    Hopefully, by the time we see them in better looking cars and (hopefully) turbo engines (made by numerous manufacturers), all of the split/unification talk will be a distant memory and everyone will just be enjoying a robust and competitive series.
  • Brett knows of what he speaks. I agree 100%. Who cares if Tony broke it, HE is the one that has to fix it. He wanted the throne, now he's got it and it's HIS responsibility. I know, lets hire Gene Simmons! How about Eddie Cheever! Danicle-mania! wooohooooo! Crash boom! Boogity, Yeeehaaawww!!!

    Tony couldn't promote it before, he won't now.

    Please bring back real, big time, premier open wheel racing, F1.
  • Attendance has been up at almost every race,

    Since they don't release attendance figures, and make a point of saying so, isn't it a bit disingenuous to take them at their word on this? Watkins Glen clearly had a big increase, the rest of them are moribund, infected with the dismal atmosphere created by FTG and his flying garbage trucks.

    Those 'new sponsors' have done little or nothing in the way of activation, (not at all surprising, Zak Brown is a joke, he fits in perfectly with 'league' mentality) and there is really nothing different or compelling about this farce, even with the CC teams. The 'league' has always been a failure, FTG is an arrogant buffon with an inheritance, but just spending money making a cheap lame copy of what CART was won't really replicate it. Not that he cares, he just likes playing 'controller'. He has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old.

    Tony George without the inheritance couldn't hold a job at Menards (John would fire him for huffing paint and not paying for it).

    The 'league', and everything about it, are a scourge, plague, and cancer upon motorsport. Nothing will get better until Anton goes back to being a track inheritor and nothing more. Unfortunately for America, the petulant brat won't ever do that.

    The (very few) people that claim to actually like the fetid sewage fountain that is the earl can enjoy their red hats, vacant aluminum, and cheap, lame, shoddy imitation of racing for as long as FTG's inheritance will get them free tickets. Everyone that knows racing will stand far away, with an occasional look of disgust and contempt.
  • The (very few) people that claim to actually like the fetid sewage fountain that is the earl can enjoy their red hats, vacant aluminum, and cheap, lame, shoddy imitation of racing for as long as FTG’s inheritance will get them free tickets. Everyone that knows racing will stand far away, with an occasional look of disgust and contempt.

    Amen, Stan. I am glad that there are still a few race fans around who refuse to accept the product the EARL puts out.

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