Dear Mr. Bernard-
Congratulations on your recent appointment as CEO of the IRL. I’m sure you know that you have a momentous task ahead of you; between “The Economy”, the hurt feelings from both sides of “The Split”, and sagging ratings on a little-known network.
I started watching IndyCar, back when it was originally IndyCar, in the mid-80s. Like most teens, I was car crazy, fueled by the fact that my Dad was a mechanic and service manager for Toyota. In fact, he won a Toyota-run contest and attended the 1984 Indy 500.
The front row of the 2009 Indy 500, standing outside Macy’s on 34th St. in New York City. Photo by Ed Marsh.
My entry into the IndyCar world was the Marlboro Grand Prix of the Meadowlands. As a high school student, it took me three years to afford going to race day. I went to one practice day each year before that, and I can still remember the sickening sound of John Andretti’s car crashing into a wall at one Friday practice. I met A.J. Foyt the year he retired, and Willy T. Ribbs asked me how the weather was outside his trailer on a wet day. From then on, I was hooked.
As I matured, and the Meadowlands Grand Prix shut down, I made my way to Nazareth. I called out of work “sick”, and stayed in a horrible hotel the year of the infamous snowstorm, when Mark Blundell and “Big Mo” Gugelmin had a snowball fight. Barry Green saying “nice shirt” as I walked about the paddock with my Team Green polo on was particular thrilling for me. Waiting for Jimmy Vasser to get off the phone to sign his 1/18 scale “Superman” car after Nazareth is something I’ll never forget.
On my vacations from work, I went to a different race each year. I visited Cleveland, Portland, Long Beach, Montreal, Road America. I flew from Newark, NJ to the Houston race, two weeks after September 11, 2001. I took my now-fiancee on a weekend to Road America in only our second year of dating (She’s a keeper, I know).
I brought some friends along to a couple of races. Most of them weren’t too interested in the race, especially on ovals, but what they all loved was the access to the drivers and teams.
In 2002, my father and I drove to Montreal for the inaugural Champ Car race there. Dad truly enjoyed himself, especially being wished Happy Birthday by then-CEO Chris Pook. I still have a Paddock sign from that race hanging proudly in my office. I almost missed getting Mario Andretti’s autograph, but as he was about to pull away on his scooter, I quietly said to him “thanks for everything you do for Champ Car”. He paused, looked at me, and signed my program.
About the same time I started to get really into IndyCar, a young, bespectacled Paul Tracy stepped into the scene. His speed, charisma, and outspoken personality were a huge draw for me, especially since he was approximately my age. He is still one of my biggest heroes to this day. He always tells it like it is, which is why people like Tony Stewart in NASCAR.
Probably most importantly to you, I spent my disposable income on Champ Car memorabilia. I bought t-shirts, polo shirts, 1/18 scale replica cars, hats, software, you name it. I bought a Toyota Celica because at that point, Toyota was still in the series.
When The Split happened, I chose sides, and since I greatly preferred road course racing to ovals, I stuck with CART. As the years continued, I watched only one IRL race – the Indy 500, and only after Ganassi and Montoya went back.
Unlike most die-hard Champ Car fans, I watched IndyCar after reunification. While it was great to see some of those old CART drivers like Helio, Tony Kanaan, and Scott Dixon, somehow, for me, it didn’t have the same “feel”. I think it was primarily that the cars are just ugly. Compare the current Dallara with the Lola and the DP-01 — both gorgeous, almost timeless race cars. Regardless, I took time off work to see the drivers in front of Macy’s in New York last year, and I watched just about every race.
Alex Tagliani in the Panoz DP-01 Champ Car, at the final Champ Car race ever. Long Beach, California, April 19, 2008. Photo by Ed Marsh.
Here’s what I’d love to see back in IndyCar:
- Paul Tracy back in the series. No one creates more excitement, or controversy. I find it hard to name another driver who’d wear a caped costume as he did in the Montreal race a few years ago.
- Rides for Oriol Servia and Nelson Phillipe. These guys are recognized for their fan-friendliness and quickness.
- Ensure that whomever’s driving, they have the personality to be on TV and various other media.
- A new car. I understand the open-source concept behind the Delta Wing, but it doesn’t look like a race car to me. If IndyCar shows up with that body work, and a 325-horsepower engine, they’ll be the laughingstock of every other race series on the planet. An IndyCar shouldn’t have only 35 horsepower more than my MazdaSpeed3. My personal favorite is the Swift #66 car.
- The best drivers, period, regardless of their nationality or amount of money they bring to the table. I’m not so xenophobic to think that we should have All-American IndyCar drivers, and I know that the problem lies in sponsorship. The initial appeal of IndyCar to me was that the best drivers were there, because they were the only ones who drove on every type of track.
- Road America.
- A single ladder series that gives young drivers an actual chance to develop through the series and run an IndyCar. This initially worked for Simon Pagenaud in Atlantics, and look where he is now…
- A focus on statistics. If you watch any major league baseball or football game, statistics are constantly thrown out to the audience. Kids have always been able to spout off statistics about their favorite player and team. Let’s work to inundate numbers junkies with numbers.
I wish you nothing but success.
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