Reading between the lines

IndyCar commentary — By on August 15, 2011 2:24 pm

Here at More Front Wing, we’re finding ourselves in quite the pickle.

On the one hand, this is an INDYCAR opinion website. If we don’t address the issues that arose yesterday, we’re not doing our jobs and we’re doing our readers a major disservice.

But on the other hand, if we make sweeping and controversial declarations, we jeopardize the respect we’ve worked hard to earn in the paddock and we put our ability to report on the IZOD IndyCar Series without bias at risk.

Perhaps the solution is to look at the situation from a different angle. Here goes…

Fans are pissed.

I can’t remember seeing this much disillusion and resentment around this sport since 1995. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many self-proclaimed life-long fans threaten to give up if things don’t improve. This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill, typical jaded INDYCAR fan level of resentment. It’s permeated everything and everyone — even me, and I’ve been honored to be told by some of our readers that they see me as one of the more optimistic voices around INDYCAR racing.

The status quo just won’t do anymore. If people are to be expected to stick around, they need to see change. They demand demonstration of an understanding from the high ranks of INDYCAR that things are not right, that their opinions are respected, and that something is being done to rectify the problems.

People have been clinging to 2012 as a bastion of hope — new cars, new rules, new interest, and new upward momentum. But with the previously promised aero kits delayed for another year and the realization that no new car is going to fix the non-mechanical issues that plague the sport, this weekend saw much of that hope fly out the window.

(For the record, I don’t have a huge issue with delaying the aero kits to 2013 if it means they’ll be rolled out properly. But I seem to hold the minority opinion on that issue. That’s a topic for another post.)

From this weekend alone, there were several clear demonstrations of the issues that need to be resolved.

For example, during the race’s first rain delay period, I saw far too many people speculate that the Series was going to just run yellow flag laps to reach the halfway point and hand the win over to the perceived golden boy, Dario Franchitti. That ended up being demonstrably untrue. But the very fact that so many people saw it reasonable to speculate at such favoritism at all speaks volumes about how the administration of this sport is currently viewed.

And whenever fans try to go to the rule book to seek explanations, they’re met with a stream of wishy-washy language like “in general,” “INDYCAR may,” and “the Senior Official in his discretion” that leaves nearly every rule open to subjective, in-the-moment interpretation. As demonstrated in yesterday’s post-race press conference, even the participants question this. Scott Dixon said, “Today, I don’t even know why we have a rule book because it makes no sense.”

More importantly, New Hampshire was an interesting race with plenty of storylines, but here we are again focusing on the impact that officiating had on the outcome of the race instead of on the work that the drivers and teams have done. That fact speaks to the problem most of all.

At the end of the money cycle in any sport lies the common fan. Sure, the sponsors are the ones who truly pay the bills since the direct financial impact of ticket and merchandise sales is small, but those sponsors have no interest in pumping money into a sport with no one watching it at home.

And in the last 24 hours, the common fans have made their opinions abundantly clear: INDYCAR needs to make significant changes if it hopes to retain their respect.

Not in 2012. Not next month.


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