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Sports Business

Paul Tracy throws gas on fiery IndyCar debate

February 24, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Paul Tracy heaved a little gas on the fiery debate about the number of North Americans in the IndyCar Series this year.

“Four drivers from this continent at the first test,” Tracy tweeted to his followers yesterday. “I think there are three wins for all of them put together. As guys like Rahal, Rice and me get to stay home and watch. If that’s what you fans want … enjoy.”

Many open-wheel racing fans took umbrage at Tracy’s comments, tweeting back that it is IndyCar team owners who are at fault, not fans.

Tracy, never short on words, didn’t back down. He implored fans to contact IndyCar Series officials and team owners to tell them what they want.

“Open-wheel fans have been foolishly loyal over the last 15 years, as both series have dragged open-wheel to the bottom of the ocean,” Tracy tweeted this morning. “We have held our breath long enough. And I implore every fan to take charge of what you love and want from IndyCar!!!!!!”

OK, so we know how Tracy, who is a Canadian, feels. And we know that American Graham Rahal, a young, promising and popular IndyCar driver with no sponsorship and no ride this year, is also miffed. He’s said to be considering NASCAR. Though I have to tell you, my sources in NASCAR tell me few are interested in an open-wheel/road course specialist, certainly not for this season.

But let’s give the final word—at least for now—on this debate to a slightly more objective source.

Derek Daly is worth listening to on this subject for a number of reasons. Daly raced Formula One from 1978-82. He raced in CART (and the Indianapolis 500) from 1983-89.

But I’m not into just trotting out retired racers because they’ve been there during the salad days of open-wheel. I wanted to talk to Daly because his 18-year-old son, Conor, is one of the most promising up-and-coming American open-wheel racers.

Maybe I’m a fool, but it seems like if the IndyCar Series is going to be proactive about becoming a place for the best racers—and yes, a place where American talent can be nurtured, then someone at the series level or with one of the teams would have contacted Conor (or contacted Derek about Conor) by now.

“We’ve never heard anything from anybody in the IRL,” Derek Daly said. “Not one team, and no one from the league office. No one ever expressed any interest in his ambitions or to inquire about his development. Nothing.”

Which brings me to my next point. The question of what to do about Rahal should have been asked years ago. At least former IndyCar Series boss Tony George was willing to shell out some cash to try to put promising talent on the track. But that’s just a short-term fix.

Daly thinks the IndyCar Series needs a three- to five-year growth strategy with driver development as its foundation. Daly might be a guy worth listening to. Mario Andretti calls Daly’s book, “Race to Win” the Bible of driver development.

Daly seems like a guy new Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series boss Jeff Belskus might want to get to know. Besides a single email, Daly said he’s never had any contact with Belskus.

Back to Conor Daly, who was the fastest of 22 drivers in the Formula Star Mazda Series test last month. Since no one from the IndyCar Series reached out to him, he and his dad went to an IndyLights meet and greet last year in Chicago.

“He was really excited to meet the drivers and some of the team owners,” Derek Daly said.

But Conor, then 17, was turned away from the paddock. Sources present at the event told me Conor Daly was turned away because Marlboro was doing a promotion—and anyone under 18 wasn’t allowed.

Ironic. Marlboro, who along with other tobacco companies have propped up the sport for so long, might have a hand in killing its future.

Speaking of the future; Conor Daly doesn’t have one in IndyCar, his dad said.

“When Conor looks at his good friend, Graham Rahal, and Graham struggles to establish himself in IndyCar … Conor sees it as an unstable platform,” Derek Daly said.

So that’s just one 18-year-old, right? I suppose everyone in IndyCar wishes that were so.

But as part of his driver development program, Derek Daly works with dozens of young drivers worldwide.

“From what I hear from the drivers coming through my program, the path of being a professional race car driver is not through IndyCar,” Derek Daly said. “That’s why so many people are making their way to NASCAR.”

But Conor loves open-wheel racing, Derek Daly said, and that’s how he wants to make a living. But not here.

“Conor is looking at a path through Europe,” Derek Daly said.

Derek Daly, for the record, is a dual American and Irish citizen. Conor, who was born in Noblesville, couldn’t be more American. If there’s no future for Conor Daly in the IndyCar Series, you have to wonder what the future holds.

Derek Daly doesn’t like what he sees long-term.

“You have to wonder how many young, American drivers have been left behind,” he said. “[The IndyCar Series] has missed an entire generation. The scary part is, I think there’s an even bigger hole in the next generation.”

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