After years of hearing complaints from both sides of the Indy Racing League-Champ Car debate, I’ve long thought someone needed to stand up to the fans, sponsors and everyone else henceforth to considered collateral damage in this heinous war and simply say, “I’m sorry.”
“The split was wrong. What happened did serious damage to the sport and I’m sincerely sorry for all those whose lives were altered in a negative way.”
Did you notice I said ‘serious damage.’ I don’t believe it’s irreparable. But it warrants an apology to those who were wounded.
There’s a simple follow-up to that full mea culpa—one that will allow this series to go full speed ahead.
“Now I hope you will join me in re-building this great sport.”
The most logical person to make this statement is new IRL boss Randy Bernard. And he’s about half-way there.
Over lunch last Wednesday he admitted the open-wheel split was a mistake. A big mistake. It’s the first time I’ve heard someone anywhere near the top of IndyCar say that.
Bernard said high-up people on both sides of this thing have told him privately the split was wrong.
“It’s like a bad divorce,” Bernard told me. “No one wants to talk about it.”
It’s time. It’s long, long past time. If nothing else, the fans (and former fans) need to hear it. And nowhere else would this apology ring louder than to those long-time fans living in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Maybe it’s escaped some people’s attention, but sports—motorsports included—is more than a sport for some people. It’s a livelihood.
I’m not talking about fat-cat team owners or hobbyists. I’m talking crew members, mechanics, machinists and others who dedicated their lives to their craft for decades. And lot’s of those people lost there jobs over this split.
I’m not saying that open-wheel racing wouldn’t have declined somewhat without the split, but there isn’t a rational person alive who would deny that the split widened the wound.
Many, many people would like to see Tony George make this apology. I don’t think that will ever happen. And at this point, I’m not sure an apology from George is appropriate. This isn’t about crow eating. It’s about healing.
Right now, there’s still too much bad blood, and not enough good will to regenerate this sport to where it needs to be. Running to foreign markets with a new chassis and re-made product won’t do it.
The people of the great Midwest are the ones that made this sport great and they, most of all, need that apology.
Sure, it’s relatively easy for Bernard to make this proclamation. Two months ago, he’d never been to an open-wheel race. But he’s the boss now. And his admission is no small thing.
So I asked him, why doesn’t someone stand up and say those magical words. I'm not sure I got a definitive answer. Give him time, he's just figured out where the men's room is at IRL's HQ and which restaurants to avoid downtown.
I know, this is ancient history. The IRL-Champ Car split happened in 1996 and the two sides reconciled more than two years ago. The war is over. Champ Car is dead.
I remember in school studying the Civil War. And weeks after the war had been declared over, there were still small bands of warriors slaying each other, not aware that a long-term peace agreement had been reached.
Well, that’s when the Pony Express was the most reliable form of mass communication. With the Internet going blazing saddles you’d think we would be beyond killing ourselves long after the white flag has been waved.
I joked with Bernard about New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick’s penchant for saying the “past is the past,” even after an event has ended five minutes ago.
But the pain of the split isn’t in the past. And I think Bernard is coming to that conclusion too.
“I agree with Belichick that the past is the past,” Bernard said. “Until you need it.”
It’s time for Bernard to utter those magical words on behalf of everyone in open-wheel.
He knows the split was wrong. So do most people who still have power in this sport.
But Bernard—perhaps more than most—knows something else.
If IndyCar is going to survive going forward, he needs the past.
And everyone in it.