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INDYCAR: What’s Next?

December 17, 2012

For weeks I’ve been listening to every media pundit and armchair racer debate what Indycar should do next. Their TV ratings are in the tank, they just fired a semi-popular CEO without cause, they literally can’t give away tickets to a short oval race and they’re hemorrhaging cash at an appalling rate.
Everyone is offering an idea. The ideas vary, of course, but they all have one thing in common: everybody wants Indycar to “do” something.
But when things are going haywire, sometimes it’s best to stop, back up, and try to see the big picture.
Instead of perpetually asking what Indycar should “do” to fix this or that, perhaps we should question the wisdom of the series doing anything at all. Truth be told, every act that American open wheel racing has committed in the last 15 years has only taken us from bad to worse.
Maybe “doing something” isn’t the answer. Perhaps it is the problem. Let's look at a few other recent “do something” moves.
The rule allowing “push to pass” buttons hasn’t really allowed anyone to pass. The rule allowing three engine manufacturers has given us only two engine manufacturers, each selling overpriced V6’s that require a turbocharger to make a puny 600 horsepower and blow up after only 1,800 miles.
The rule forcing everyone to use Firestone “red” tires has had little effect. The series tinkered with the turbo boost rules before and after the Indy 500 trying to artificially manufacture the “right” speeds. They instituted a ridiculous Formula One-like “105% rule” at Indy that essentially gave us a 31-car race instead of 33.
All of this stems from the mistaken belief that the Indycar series is a master rather than a servant.
Adding more rules clearly isn’t the answer. For crying out loud, the Indycar rules package feels more like a phone book. If God Almighty could run an entire nation with ten rules, why does Indycar need 198 pages of them to manage a few dozen cars?
If adding rules were the answer, there would never have been a problem. We’ve already got rules, rules about our rules, rules on how to interpret our rules, and rules on who can make more rules.
So here’s what I believe Indycar should do: nothing.
In fact, it’s time to go in reverse.
Cut the rulebook to one page. Cars must be no longer than eighteen feet and no wider than twelve. Tires must be no wider than 10 inches. No more than 300 square inches of wing may be on the car. Any surface on the car that is not parallel with or perpendicular to the ground is a wing regardless of size or location.
There. All done.
Got an old USAC champ car? Sure, bring it out. Never know, you might make the race. An old Infiniti-powered G-Force, or maybe a Rolex prototype? No problem. Take the wings off, mount 10-inch tires and let’s go racing.
At least one hundred car and driver combinations would show up to make qualifying attempts for the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Guaranteed. I would be one of them. The garage area would be overflowing with Indy 500 hopefuls. You know… like it used to be... when an Indycar was a car that raced at Indy, not a series.
Indycar should simply stop telling people what to do. Adding more rules isn’t the answer. It’s the problem. Forcing people to buy engines, tubs and tires from a single source hasn’t controlled costs, it hasn’t expanded the field and it hasn’t produced a new golden age for open wheel racing. On the contrary, Indycar can barely muster 33 cars for its own 500.
Glorified spec racing has had a decade to do something other than fail. It’s time to relegate it to the dustbin of racing history and liberate the most over-regulated sport on the planet.
What should Indycar do? Nothing. Just tear up the rulebook and get out of the way.
Stephen Cox
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
#20 Boschett Timepieces/Ed & Co. Racing Supplies ARCA Truck
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions 


  • Comment Link Brian Palmer Friday, 25 January 2013 22:40 posted by Brian Palmer

    We build race cars, I hate rules that say you can have a nice cheap and cheerful LS7 but must run restrictors that would strangle a lawn mower. My only added rule would be,
    You have X litres of fuel, use it anyway you like.
    Other than the basic safety regulations it is all we need.We will then see an amazing variety of solutions.
    BTW the 2 word validation is concocted by drunken Hobbits.

  • Comment Link Mark Bellwoar Tuesday, 15 January 2013 13:17 posted by Mark Bellwoar

    You are correct Stephen. Having worked for 20 years for a race team that was a power house in CART and Champ Car and then made the switch to IRL.(NHR) Throug the course of those years I have wathced crowds simply dissapear, and I believe that we have lost a whole generation of open wheel fans. From a mob scene at Road America to not racing there at all, that is what my father used to call a cryin shame. Thank God my sons grew up at the race track in the good days of open wheel racing in America. Knowing every driver up and down pit lane and asking them to sign a hat, or if they had a spare visor to part with. Those days will be missed and I do not think at this point in time that they are anywhere on the horizon. People say that if you do not learn from your past you are doomed to repeat it. I say lets all be doomed and bring back the past.

  • Comment Link Squall Sunday, 13 January 2013 02:19 posted by Squall

    Nothing wrong with the 105% rule, which was actually IGNORED last May by IndyCar; they basically cut a deal with Lotus, basically guaranteeing the last two spots, to allow Dragon Racing to switch engines to something actually competitive. If those too-slow times weren't allowed in (and they were both under the minimum speed), then two slots would've remained open for whoever wanted to shoot for them. If the field is short because too many cars are just too damn slow, then stick to your guns and be like founder Carl Graham Fisher, in the Progressive Era of the 1910s.

    The 105% rule was introduced to deal with the farce that was Milk & Donuts. Between the two, I'd easily take a legitimate 31-car field.

  • Comment Link Rob Bryan Monday, 24 December 2012 23:57 posted by Rob Bryan

    Hi Stephen
    I have a variety of ex F1, Indy and LeMans cars in my collection. Can I bring them along?
    I will need to change all body work to box shape to meet the non perpendicular rule but thats ok for sponsor signage.
    Do I need to have all the tubs crash tested to current motorsport standards? I lost a few friends this year....
    Can I run the ground effects car? Oh cool, be great to hear that fan running again....or maybe I will bring the tyrell out again, you remember her, the 6 wheeler, runs great on 10 inch tires.
    You've only listed 3 lines of rules and yet you said 1 if you wouldn't mind adding a few more lines just so I can bring these babies out again....without the without the safety negligence lawsuits.
    Oh and one more thing, can we have a variety of fuels please.. Ive got an old Williams F1 car with active suspension, fly by wire everything....but it kinda needs heavy fuel, thanks Bud!

  • Comment Link oldwrench Monday, 24 December 2012 12:20 posted by oldwrench

    Another person that gets it. If it were to occur I would be on my way to Indy to get a car. I will join you in the garage area. Pass this along to the brain dead - brain trust at 16th & Georgetown. They need to wake up from their coma!!!

  • Comment Link Donald M. Gawron Monday, 17 December 2012 10:32 posted by Donald M. Gawron

    Until the H-G group releases it's momopolizing stranglehold on the actual Indy Car series, nothing will change, and a slow dying death will occur, if it hasn't already.

  • Comment Link Dean Croucher Monday, 17 December 2012 09:54 posted by Dean Croucher

    Amen Stephen long over due.

  • Comment Link Bill Darmon Monday, 17 December 2012 09:33 posted by Bill Darmon

    Hi Stephen, Having owned a racing series for a couple of years in Canada I fully agree with you. Let's get back to what racing is all about. Start out with "run what ya brung" and then let team inginutity , driver capability and parts reliability take over.
    Basic rules for engine disp. / horsepower, tire size, brake dia. and overall wing. Yes, skinny tires can be a great more than 10" wide. will anyone listen??
    bill darmon

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