Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

NASCAR’s revision of its points system, and the reaction to it, has returned me, like the swallows to Capistrano, to my very core base of appreciation for INDYCAR. Screaming typographics aside, the debate of on-track action between INDYCAR and NASCAR for this writer has always boiled down to one very simple inherent element – open wheels.


In reaction to the points system changes in NASCAR, driver Clint Bowyer states, 
“…you’re out there giving it 100 percent, you’re out there to win the race 
each and every week anyway, but you’re not going to 
step underneath somebody if you’re loose 
and you know they’re going to make you even looser. 
You’re not going to try to make that pass for 
a fifth place and take a chance of finishing 35th.”



Recollecting the ‘mosh-pit’ nature of action often found in a stock car race, there are some who will see it as Bowyer does, encouraging more caution and conservatism to attain the precious points for your season, seemingly reducing the impetus to race. One wonders if this also allows for backmarkers and multiple-car teams to play a more significant role in the system. I certainly don’t have any immediate suspects, but one could see how a car suffering misfortune early and dropping back to 32nd place could roll around out there until the opportunity presents to, er.. ‘assist’ a teammate by impeding or (dare I say it?) ‘chrome horn’ an opposing car out of contention (that doesn’t really happen, does it?).  Tongue, meet cheek. 


The ability to ‘bump and grind’ and ‘loosen-up’ and ‘slide-job’ and ‘soldier on’ after repairs (and all those other wonderful stock car colloquialisms) certainly allows for this to happen. Perhaps that IS the very nature of that form of auto-racing which makes it popular with so many.  For others, this isn’t racing at all which brings me to my point (yes, finally).


INDYCAR (or Indycar as I like to call it), from it’s inception, has the simple and inherent beauty (and violent danger) of being an auto-racing form which has vehicles specifically featuring open-wheels. No fenders means no ‘grind-bump-draft-slide-job-loosen-sheet metal repairs’. 


‘Open wheels’ means a pass must be judged and made skillfully or the penalty for locking wheels often takes both drivers, and even others, out of the race (or sometimes on a tragic occasion even out of this life). To this writer, this is, and has always been, the singlemost reason why I appreciate the sport of Indycar more than any other form of racing. 


Formula 1, it can be argued, contains the highest level of technology in a similar open-wheel format, but due to their European origin on street and road courses, it’s oft-turned and rapidly-deccelrated wheels requires primary skill in braking and turning and never reaches the overt and thrilling speeds (or passing) found with Indycars on ovals. NASCAR had speeds sometimes approaching the relative ballpark of Indycars (albeit many years and restrictions ago) on matching ovals, but all too often relies on less-sporting driving skills and tactics, and certainly aren’t also made very well for going left AND right as Indycars will also do.


I am fully aware that success in NASCAR also requires a skillset, but in my view Indycar has always represented the apogee of where extreme speed meets sporting skillfulness. I also believe that once seen in this light, Indycar has no equal in what it provides to its audience. Only then does one begin to truly understand the heritage and legacy found in its 100 years of racing.


The latest chassis (and engine) rules for 2012 have embraced this heritage by allowing this primary element to remain, yet not allowed private technology budgets to attempt to dictate the competition. This is why INDYCAR is still my preferred form of auto racing and why so many, who’ve yet to cast an eye on it will appreciate it as we, the dedicated, do.


Nearly every year since my third Indy 500 back in 1988, I’ve brought a person who has never seen an Indycar race (or in some cases any auto-racing event) to their first Indycar race only to have them be amazed at the sounds, smells, sights, speed, and atmosphere of it all. I’m glad to have passed this along to my friends as my father and mother did for me back in 1979. I intend to do it again this year and challenge you to bring at least one ‘newbie’ to a race in 2011, as there is truly no substitute for the experience.

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