Open-Wheel Racing in America: Does anyone still care?

For the past week, the motorsports media has been obsessing over Juan Pablo Montoya’s move from Formula One to NASCAR, and the potential for Danica Patrick to leave the IRL for NASCAR.

A number of open-wheel reporters/commentators have moaned and complained about how JPM leaving F1 for “tin tops” or “NAPCAR” is just another sign that open-wheel racing in America is not as strong as it should be. They complain about how merging the IRL and whatever name CART goes by now is the perfect solution, and how when it happens, no one will care about “NA$CAR” any more.

Now, admittedly, I grew up watching stock cars rather than open-wheel, but I just have to ask: do people still give a crap about open-wheel? I tried watching the IRL race at Nashville last night, but it just didn’t hold my interest all that well. Having 18 cars start the race didn’t help, and even reaction shots of Ashley Judd didn’t do much to get my attention.

I watch the Indy 500 because it’s Indy, and I’ve watched some CART races too, but they’re not that exciting to me. F1 is even less entertaining, because if you’re not Alonso, Schumacher or Raikkonen, you’re not going to win. And there’s no passing.

So, does anyone still prefer open-wheel racing these days? Can you explain why open-wheel is better than stock car racing? To me, an IndyCar is just a giant go-kart. It’s a bathtub with wheels, not a car. At least stock cars look like real cars.

I have to admit that I’m always surprised to see F1 mentioned on the BBC’s website. I am nothing like a huge race fan. I do like some of the F1 racing that isn’t oval track, because it makes for a more interesting race. But I’m more likely to watch drag racing or motocross if I come across them on TV.

It’s always been the premier event, from our point of view - inevitable, I suppose, as it’s always been a Europe-oriented setup. The combination of the past decade producing unwatchable races, plus the money-grabbing of the organisers, has meant it’s lost a lot of popularity. While I hate bike racing, Moto GP has had a huge surge in popularity, and all the other formulas have gained from F1’s dip in fortunes, such as touring cars (perhaps the equivalent to Nascar but without the ovals or the hype).

I’m really not that interested in having the F1 in America discussion, because I’m not convinced that’s ever going to work (even with an American in the field.) I’m more interested in talking about the domestic open-wheel series, and how no one seems to care about them at all.

For example: if ESPN/ABC didn’t hold the IRL television contract (and trust me, that’s just for the 500) do you think you’d see highlights on SportsCenter? When’s the last time you saw the other series mentioned on the Worldwide Leader? Apparently an American kid named Allmendinger has won the last 3 races after getting fired and hired by a new team. You’d think that might warrant 45 seconds on SC.

Maybe someone in this thread knows: why is the “open wheel” part important? I notice that when the Le Mans/Datona top class racers cover the wheels, so what is the deal with insisting that F1/Indy cars not do so?

You ever stand next to a Sprint car race in a 1/4 track? A ton better then stock car racing.

No real reason other than simple tradition.

Unfortunately, Amercian Open Wheel racing has shot itself in the foot so many times that they no longer even have shins and they’re now working up their thighs. And I say this as a person who still regularly watches Champ Car races and refuses to attend the USGP at Indianapolis because of the ownership. After a flurry of news that a “merger” was at hand a few weeks back, it looks like nothing has changed.

At the very least Champ Car has some hope for the future…they’re introducing a new chassis next year (finally retiring their ancient Lolas), they’ve got a legitimate American winner now, their Atlantics feeder series has some excellent talent and teams looking to move up in the future. Meanwhile, the IRL still has Indy and an owner who apparently takes his cues in following the G. W. Bush’s “stay the course no matter what” philosphy and apparently enough money coming from the Brickyard 400 and the family fortune to cover his open wheel expenses. So yeah…the future’s as cloudy as ever. Sigh.

I watched the World of Outlaws race at Bristol on TV, and I was present when The Dude made some laps on the concrete once. But sprints/midgets/Silver Crown are feeder series for open-wheel and NASCAR, so they don’t count.

fiddlesticks, how are they going to afford new cars when sponsorship money is nonexistent?

Well, if Champ Car was surviving only on sponsorship money it would have died back in 2004. Basically, it’s being kept alive by a bunch of rich guys who don’t seem to mind throwing money away each year in the apparent hope that someday the economics of open wheel racing will turn around.

Introducing the new car was something that had to be done for the series to move forward (like getting control of engine costs by having the series owner purchase Cosworth). The limited lifespan of the old Lola chassis was one factor keeping new teams from moving up from Atlantics to the big show even if they had the desire and money. I doubt it alone will cause the car count to drop next season, and maybe with some good fortune they’ll finally break the 20 car barrier…

I definitely prefer open-wheel cars to stock cars. Maybe that would change if NASCAR went to a road course schedule and had actual cars out there on the track, instead of look-alikes. I attend the Denver Grand Prix Champ Car arce here every year.

Maybe this isn’t the place for this question, but I guess I don’t understand why anyone would prefer NASCAR to open-wheel. I’m a car nut, will watch most any type of racing, but NASCAR just bores me to tears…

I’ll take a swing at it, as a NASCAR fan. I watch NASCAR because it’s what I grew up watching. Cup cars look like real cars, and so they’re more interesting to me than the overgrown go-karts. Open-wheel cars sound like weed eaters because they turn 10000+ RPMs, they can be catastrophically damaged by looking at them cross-eyed and it’s impossible to identify a particular driver on the track because the numbers are unreadable and team cars share paint schemes. I don’t want to squint at camera mounts and nose decals to figure out who I’m watching.

Took the words right out of my mouth. I used to watch CART and IRL on the weekends, and I went to one CART race at Laguna Seca years ago, and I think it is just a thrilling and exciting sport, even though I wouldn’t count myself as a fan. The fact that drivers change gears, turn left and right, jam on the breaks to make crisp hairpin turns, and even race through cities a couple times a year is just fascinating to me. Unfortunately, my weekends are now usually filled with domestic duties, playing golf, and occasionally work, so I suppose my lack of recent viewership is contributing to the problems of this kind of racing.

Besides the inaneness of NASCAR’s single-minded fixation on oval tracks, there’s two things that really, really bug me about the cars. I understand some people like that they look like “real cars” (I would retort that open-wheel racers look like race cars), it really really bugs me that these vehicles carry labels like “Monte Carlo” or “Taurus.” I’ve seen a Taurus, bub, and that looks about as much like a Taurus as The Rock looks like me. The other thing is the decals slapped on to make it look like those cars have headlights. puh-leeze.

But the racing, son, the racing! Maybe the stock cars look more luike real cars, maybe you can tell who the drivers are, maybe they sound better, but they just go around, and around, and around…zzz.

Actually, I can understand some of it. I agree that crashes can be exciting, I think door-to-door action at 200+ mph can be interesting in a cringe inducing way. It just seems to me that NASCAR is popular because it’s less like auto racing, and more like football.

And what exactly do they do at Indy and Milwaukee, drag race? Open-wheel has just as much history on ovals as stock car racing does.

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that there aren’t some boring races on the Nextel Cup schedule (Pocono is the worst,) but you can’t just claim that it’s boring because it’s oval racing.

And CART is almost all street circuits these days, so no one can pass. If I want to watch a bunch of cars ride around single-file, I’ll go watch funeral processions.

F1/CART = Stuck-up Eurotrash in science fiction rocket sleds that smash into pieces if you sneeze anywhere near them.

NASCAR = American good ol’ boys trading paint in normal-looking cars that harken back to the days when their grandpappys smuggled hooch for a living.

That’s a bit harsh, maybe, but fairly accurate. The IRL is trying to be NASCAR without fenders, and look how that’s working for them.

Can one of you open-wheel fans explain why, exactly, the “merger” is taking so long? Is it a question of technical regulations, or is it something more than that?

I think it’s a lot of stuff: Profit sharing, courses (road vs. oval), tech, and a clash of egos.
FTR, I don’t find IRL any more interesting than NASCAR, regardless of the open-wheel-osity.

So for you, it’s more about road courses than the car. Why not watch ALMS or Grand-Am, then, instead of open-wheel?

It really is hard to say exactly what the current holdup is on the merger. Tony George (owns the Indy Speedway & the IRL) and Kevin Kalkhoven (Champ Car’s principal owner) have apparently been “talking” for months and are refusing to comment about the substance of their discussions. Occasionally newspaper articles appear in the local Indianapolis papers based on “an unnamed person familiar with…” type information, which are promptly decried (thought perhaps not denied exactly) by both George and Kalkhoven. The last big article said a “power sharing” agreement had been signed between George and Kalkhoven. That’s a major step forward if it really happened. An article I read this week is that Honda (the IRL’s engine supplier) is getting ansy about the lack of apparent merger progress (personally interpreted as a public kick to George’s rear…).

Even if they with a “power sharing” agreement out of the way, there is still the question of how you merge the rule books, merge the engine contracts, merge the schedule. I wouldn’t expect a real unified series until at least '08, but perhaps Champ Car teams & drivers will participate at the Indy 500 next year enmasse.

At the very least, we are perhaps finally beyond the “hold fast until the other series dies” stage where things were from '96 onwards.

fiddlesticks thanks for the enlightenment, but one question: if the Champ Car teams are all buying new cars next year, is there any reason to think they’ll be able to afford to come to Indy? As I understand it, there’s a lot of difference between an IRL car and a Champ Car technically, and so you can’t just stick both cars out there at the same time. Expecting the Champ Car teams to spend the money on at least 2 new Champ Cars and 2 IRL cars is a bit… optimistic, isn’t it?