Indy Car Racing: Risks vs. Rewards

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(Dan Wheldon with my son, Jeremy, @ Las Vegas Friday)

A record number of race cars racing just inches apart in abnormally large packs at lightning fast speeds that exceeded 220 mph.  A newly concocted “bounty” of $5 million for a victory from a non IndyCar season participant who could start from the back of a larger than most starting grid, and win the finale.  The driver who was anointed to receive the $5 million “bounty” was the two-time Indy 500 winner, the latest victory being 20111, Dan Wheldon.  A fiercely contested season championship.  A media frenzied driver leaving the series, driving her last race in the IndyCar Series before jumping to a higher paycheck in the NASCAR side of automobile racing.

Last Sunday the IZOD IndyCar World Championship races at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway incorporated all of those elements in one very short captivating afternoon in a racing series that is attention and media starved, compared to NASCAR.

However, the spotlight has intensified for the IndyCar Series since Sunday, and for all the wrong reasons!  As the whole racing world mourns the death of the affable British IndyCar driver, Dan Wheldon, who perished in a horrendous, fiery 15 car crash, there are many questions that need to be examined and answered.

First and foremost the question to be answered should be:  In an effort to come out of the shadows of the NASCAR circuit, is the fastest racing series in the USA over-stepping the limits of safety?  Additionally, are the Indy Car officials putting their race car drivers at an undue risk?

The death of Dan Wheldon, who was the “poster boy” for the $5 million dollar prize for the non-IndyCar driver that would start at the back of the grid and ultimately win the last race of the year at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is the lastest blow to an already struggling open wheel racing series.   That series has been reeling every since Tony George drove a wedge into the open wheel racers by starting his own Indy Racing League in 1996.  From that point, in 1996, the infighting between CART and the IRL resulted in a very weak open wheel series, thus confusing the fans.  That same infighting resulted in a once prominent racing series desperately gasping for life.

To that end, two years ago The IndyCar Series hired Randy Bernard as CEO.  Bernard was hired away from the Professional Bull Riders, where he earned a reputation as a bombastic promoter by merging bucking Brahmans with glitzy pyrotechnics.  Bernard brought the same flair to IndyCar, tweaking and toying with the rules to try to increase action.

The season finale was intended to be an attention-getting master stroke of genius for the  IndyCar Series.  Last weekend there was a glitzy parade down the Las Vegas Strip saluting the end of the current chassis that dated back to 2003.  The newer chassis will make its debut in 2012, is sleeker and incorporates many more safety features.

The $5 million dollar prize was a failed attempt to snare moonlighting drivers, like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, and possibly Kasey Kahne to try capture that bounty.  When Bernard could not find any takers, Dan Wheldon and his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team was selected as the only driver eligible for the $5 million dollar prize.

Sunday’s crash was not the first time that an IndyCar has gotten airborne during a race on a mile and a half race track, however, it was the first fatality in recent years.  Two drivers, Davey Hamilton (Texas 2001), and Kenny Breck ( Texas 2003) suffered significant major injuries. in their similar type crashes.

Is this the time that the IndyCar officials take a hard serious look at the risks vs. the rewards of running this series on high banked, high-speed race tracks?

I must add, that having been a spectator last weekend at Las Vegas, the small portion of the race that occurred was  intense, exciting, and very dramatic.  However, the horrendous, fiery debris field that resulted from a very small mistake made by one driver makes one pause to think that maybe IndyCar needs to re-evaluate their mission statement.

The racing world will long miss Dan Wheldon!  Hopefully Weldon’s death won’t be ignored.  Instead, it is the opinion of WOMR that all the officials of the IndyCar Series conduct a transparent and thorough investigation.  Additionally, those same individuals need to implement the findings of that investigation to further increase safety in the series!

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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