International drivers dominate Indy 500Written by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The re-Americanization of the Indianapolis 500 is mired in a mega pothole at the corner of Georgetown and 16th in Indianapolis, site of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and no help is on the way.
America’s bastion of open-wheel racing, its field of dreams for so many young racers is this country has been overrun by foreign objects, legal aliens and the like.
It’s now the International 500. Those once indigenous to Indy, native American open-wheel racers, are on the outside looking in or on the inside looking at virtually no chance of winning this weekend’s 94th running of the Indy 500.
A record low nine American-born drivers are in this year’s 33-car field. It’s not an aberration. It’s a trend.
The previous record low was 11 established last year. There were only 13 in 2008 and 14 in 1995, the first year of the split in open-wheel racing. That’s when former Speedway president Tony George formed the Indy Racing League. That‘s when he dangled his Indy 500 in front of the established CART organization, stating in principle, “You might think you don’t need me now, but eventually you’ll be back because I own the only race in town.”
He was right. The CART folks thought they could survive without Indy. They couldn‘t. Their sponsors wouldn’t allow it. They’re all back at the Brickyard , with one exception, Tony George, who was recently deposed, his mother and three sisters kicking him off the board of directors at Indy. George is still somewhere on the grounds as a partial team owner with stepson Ed Carpenter as his driver.
A.J. Foyt, one of three drivers, including Rick Mears and Al Unser, to win a record four Indy 500s, has often said, “The drivers don’t make Indy, Indy makes the drivers.” Much to Foyt’s chagrin, the latest driver Indy is making is Helio Castroneves, one of eight Brazilians in this year’s field. He‘ll start from the pole and is the odds-on favorite to win this year’s race and join the all-American threesome of four-time winners.
What has also become a disturbing trend is that those among the most promising young American drivers, namely Graham Rahal, son of 1986 Indy champion Bobby, and another proven winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, don’t even have full-time rides this season.
The only two Americans with full-time rides are Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick, the series’ most popular driver, at least until last weekend when she was booed for passing the blame to her team for her very disappointing 23rd qualifying position over the track public address system. That left her somewhat surprised and maybe hastened her departure to NASCAR where blameworthiness abounds.
The IRL has failed to develop an American driver capable of contending for victories and championships since Sam Hornish left for NASCAR full-time in 2008. The Defiance, OH., driver had won three IndyCar titles and the Indy 500 in 2006.
Patrick is one of a record four women in this year’s 33-car field. Since George’s IRL plan eventually didn’t set well with the female members of his family maybe he can get back in their good graces with the promotion of an Indy 500 Powder Puff Derby.
“Today, NASCAR took a great chunk of the attention,” explained Castroneves, seeking his second consecutive Indy 500 victory. “All the American talent, it’s focused more in that direction. It’s a little bit of lack of option. The IndyCar Series has go-karts, Indy Lights and IndyCar. You can’t just jump into a prototype car and then to Indy Lights and IndyCar. It’s a little bit difficult. So the option is going to other places, like Europe or [Brazil], to develop those skills.
“I‘m sure in the next few years you‘re going to be seeing American talent, drivers, rising again.”
Or not unless more American-born drivers are able to exploit their roots.
IndyCar has helped create the closeout of American drivers by including more road courses and temporary street courses which now outnumber ovals on its schedule. It’s the new marketing technique of taking the races to the people since bringing the people to the races has failed.
The American community of open-wheel racing is all about ovals, which was the original footprint of the IRL as advertised by George.
When all is said and done, the barbs tossed, the diversity reproached and George berated still again, the Indy 500 is still, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” bar none.
Castroneves said he saw Jesus three times while driving on the edge during qualifying, Patrick heard boos for the first time and Tony Kanahan cried after crashing twice before finally making the field. Indy is still the epitome of emotion when it comes to racing. It‘s the motherland, native sons or not.
Tags: Indianapolis 500