COUNTERPOINT: Should IndyCar adopt the Nation’s Cup?

Counterpoint, IndyCar — By on April 24, 2013 10:22 am
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In Counterpoint, More Front Wing co-editors Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft take sides on an issue relating to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither views the other’s argument until the article is compiled for posting. It’s up to you to decide who’s made the better case!

This week: Should IndyCar adopt the Nation’s Cup?

PAUL says NO:

Has anyone ever really thought that IndyCar racing has a lack of championship trophies to hand out? Overall championship, oval championship, road course championship, Indianapolis 500 championship, manufacturer championship.  Is it really necessary for IndyCar to create a nation’s championship as well?

I concede that we here in the United States, while certainly patriotic and proud of our own drivers, don’t necessarily get behind them and support them with the full fervor that other nations do.  The news coverage in the US after Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed victory at Barber versus the coverage in Canada following James Hinchcliffe’s win or in Japan this week after Takuma Sato finally broke through supports that argument painfully well.  To that end, I admit I may not carry the view that could be shared by those living outside of the US.

The biggest problem I have with the Nation’s Cup (as it was called when CART had such a championship) is that it is really an afterthought and not the united goal of a group of drivers.  At the beginning of every season, every driver wants to win the overall championship.  Every driver wants to win the Indianapolis 500.  Some drivers realize their best chance for glory is competing solely for the oval or the road course championship.  Honda and Chevrolet will both make it their goal to win the season-long championship.  I have a hard time believing anyone will set out to contribute to bringing home the Nation’s Cup.  I’m sure that if Tony Kanaan was able to contribute to Brazil winning the Cup that he would be satisfied, but it won’t be his goal.  And if it’s not a goal, then what’s the point?

My other concern with this “championship” is that seldom do nationality-based championships work well in individual sports.  When you think of the great events in which athletes represent their countries, the events themselves are promoted as team events even though the competition is often at the individual level.  Sure, there is individual glory to be had at the Olympics, but most athletes go into the Games to bring home the gold for their country.  Likewise, when the Ryder Cup is competed biannually, it is man-vs-man on the golf course, but each and every man there realizes that it is ultimately Team USA vs Team Europe.  In those competitions, the goal is to win as a nation.  Can anyone see Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud teaming up together during a race to get the Nation’s Cup back to France?  They want to win for themselves, for their teams, for their sponsors, and for their engine manufacturers.  Do they want to win for each other and for their country?

In the end, if IndyCar wanted to do a Nation’s Cup, I really feel it would be nothing more than a footnote in the season statistics that few people will actually remember or care passionately about.  Sure, everyone knows Juan Montoya won the CART championship in 1999.  A lot of people probably remember Reynard and Honda won the Constructor’s and Manufacturer’s Cup that year.  Does anyone recall that Brazil won the Nation’s Cup in 1999?

More to the point, does anyone care?

*

STEPH says YES:

In each of first three races of 2013, a different flag flew at the top step of the IndyCar podium. I cannot for the life of me fathom why someone would want to sweep that fact under the rug.

The national diversity in the IZOD IndyCar Series is something to celebrate!

Where I’m from, we hold national championships in wide variety of sports. But when athletes win those, we don’t stop them there and say, “Okay, you’re the best in our country — that’s good enough.” We send them off to compete in international sporting leagues and competitions to prove their mettle against the best athletes in their disciplines from around the world. And when they come home from those tests as champions, that’s when we really start the party!

And why wouldn’t we? Doesn’t that just make sense? “I played for the hockey team that won the OHL title” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “I played for the hockey team that won the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.” Success on the world stage makes for much better bragging rights.

Besides which, creating national pride in an international game gives people a greater sense of connection to a sport. Ask the Canadian fans who watched James Hinchcliffe take his first career win in St. Pete, or the fans in Japan who sat glued to their televisions in the middle of the night to see Takuma Sato take the checkers at Long Beach.

No one questions that IndyCar is a discipline with American origins that should be competed primarily on American soil. But if IndyCar carries enough cache to capture the intrigue of some of the best racers from around the world, isn’t that a good thing?

Perhaps there’s concern that a Nation’s Cup would demonstrate that Americans aren’t winning in IndyCar as much as them dang furriners are. The current scenario belies that point. I haven’t sat down and done the math, but based on the fact that Ryan Hunter-Reay was champion last year and Ed Carpenter won at Fontana, I’m fairly confident that a 2012 Nation’s Cup would have gone to the good ol’ U-S-of-A. That would have been a pretty great thing to make a really big deal of during the off-season, wouldn’t it?

And should Hinch and Tag and any of the other young up-and-coming Canadians ever mount another campaign to make Canada the most successful country in an open-wheel racing season, I’d really love the opportunity to point at a record book and celebrate that. (Thanks for the memories, CART 2003 and Champ Car 2004.)

Yes, the desire to increase the number of Americans in open-wheel racing (and, more importantly, the Indianapolis 500) is part of what created the split and put the sport into its current position. But to this day I still feel that rift began because both sides handled it poorly.

If Americans aren’t winning, kicking other countries out to saturate the field is just silly. Don’t stack the deck, don’t take your bat and ball and go home — do something about it! Get mad! Where there’s anger, there’s passion. If Americans aren’t kicking ass at the top level, use it to light a fire under people to invest in developing young American drivers in the ladder system, get them through to the top, and get them winning.

When that works, then you’ve really got something worth celebrating — Americans legitimately beating the world at an American game, and a Nation’s Cup record in the books to prove it.

Why just beat a bunch of other Americans when you could have bragging rights over the entire planet? Isn’t that much more worth fighting for?

(By the way: At St. Pete, someone handed Hinch a Canadian flag to celebrate with. At Long Beach, someone handed Taku a Japanese flag. At Barber, no one handed RHR an American flag. Anyone else see the problem here?)

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