17 October 2011

Racing Darwinism ...

Veteran driver Dan Wheldon, who won the Indianapolis 500 for the second time this year, died from injuries suffered Sunday when his car was entangled in a horrific 15-car wreck early in the IndyCar series' season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Englishman was 33.


It was a bad day in Vegas yesterday.

Already we're hearing calls to reduce the speed and "make the cars safer". Indy Car is at a place NASCAR was 10 years ago, just after the death of Dale Earnhardt. Hopefully, Indy goes the other way.

NASCAR went the full route, a complete redesign of the cars, in and out, and look what we have now. Nothing more than a spec race (in the vein of IROC or the Barber Saab Series), a tour that's more suited to short tracks than super speedways. You see it now, as cars have to run in pairs just to stay on the lead lap or pass. NASCAR ain't NASCAR anymore. It's been made too "family friendly". Nobody wants their kids to see their favorite driver smeared all over the catch fence.

So Indy Car is at the point now where they have to make a choice. Slow the cars down and bulk them up with even more safety equipment or keep the status quo and let Racing Darwinism come into play. It goes like this.

Fielding a competitive Indy Car team costs big money.

If the owners don't want to lose their investment, in both personnel and equipment, they'll change the way they build cars. They'll figure out a way to keep them on the track at high speed or they'll continue to wreck.

If they continue to wreck, the good drivers will think twice about crawling into the car.

When they start losing money, things will change. There is no need for a complete makeover. The biggest problem is keeping the cars from going airborne and that's easy enough to do (a gyro and small parachute in the rear of the car - if it goes nose up at too steep an angle and too high a speed, the parachute deploys, dragging the nose back down).

Racing is racing, and people have been dying in race cars since the top speed was 30 mph. When you push the envelope, shit happens sometimes. Pushing the envelope is what racing is all about and when you put limits on speed, you lose some of the appeal.

I'm old enough to remember NASCAR when it was good. When the cars that ran on the track could be bought at your local dealership. Never seen a V-8, carbureted, rear wheel drive Toyota Camry on the road; have you? When you could tell the make of a car without the decals on it. NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" all share the same body. So how do they call it "stock car" racing anymore?

Indy Car has a choice. Follow NASCAR's lead and redesign the whole sport or allow the teams to make the changes they feel they need to in order to be competitive and entertaining. Personally, I'm for the latter. Racing with speed limits is neither racing or entertaining.

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