Here’s the way I understand it…
One side says:
Racing at Indianapolis was too expensive for the independent teams, given the recent technological advances in what were then called “IndyCars”. Also, it was seen that IndyCar racing was becoming an American version of Formula 1, revolving around foreign drivers with Formula 3000 and Formula Ford backgrounds racing on road courses around the world. It was seen as not providing the promotional opportunities for American midget and sprint car drivers, mostly oval track specialists, that Indy had previously done. It was a heartbreaker when Jeff Gordon, an Indiana boy who dreamed of driving at the Speedway, went to NASCAR because there were supposedly no opportunities for him in IndyCar.
With an eye towards NASCAR and the phenomenal job they had done marketing their sport, Tony George, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, wanted to create an “open-wheel NASCAR” series. This would feature American drivers on oval tracks, using an close-to-spec formula which would engender competition through reduced ability to modify the “standard” platform, not unlike NASCAR. Obviously, the crown jewel of the new series would be George’s Indianapolis 500. The regulations for the 500 were changed to meet the specs of what was now called the Indy Racing League. This included reduced test and qualifying time to accomodate teams with limited budgets and assigning guaranteed starting spots in the 500 for IRL teams.
Another side says:
Tony George is the spawn of Satan (just kidding… I think).
At the time of the schism, the CART/PPG IndyCar World Series was riding as high as could be expected. They had millions of fans around the world, although internationally Formula 1 ruled the roost. There was a smallish, but well-heeled demographic domestically, although NASCAR had become a colossus by this time, and was what most Americans thought of as “auto racing”.
There was no doubt that IndyCar racing had become a more cosmopolitan series then it was in the days of A.J. Foyt and Bobby Unser, but this was not a bad thing. There was still excellent oval racing to be had at tracks like Michigan, New Hampshire, Phoenix, Milwaukee and of course Indianapolis. Add to that the great American road courses like Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio, and street courses like Long Beach. The winner of the PPG Cup had to be a truly versatile team, able to excel at all racing disciplines. Tony George saw Indy becoming just another date on the CART schedule, and decided to throw his lot in with the NASCAR types.
It is truly sad that the Brickyard 400 is now the premier event at Indianapolis, not the 500. Due to the fact that CART can no longer use the marketing clout and name recognition of Indy, and some really horrible management decisions, they are now in a precarious position. Meanwhile, IRL is muddling along, trying to market second-rate drivers as the “stars of the Indy 500”. Meanwhile, the CART teams that have participated in the IRL-era 500s have clearly dominated the event.
I could go on forever about how the month of May has been stolen from racing fans because of greed and ego wars, and how CART has been brought to its knees by stupidity and hubris…