Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

Oft attributed (but never actually substantiated) to Mark Twain, this kitchy axiom reflects a sense that the truth via factual numbers can be perverted into something in the interest of supporting a position that might need help outside a purely factual representation.


This seems all too commonplace in the era of mass consumerism as most products and services need something akin to facts to help bolster their place in the market. Even market leaders like to “massage the stats” to maintain their advantage.

In the game of sales – for media rights, sponsorships, and financial commitments of all sorts – using relevant statistics to assist can be an Olympian exercise in numerical gymnastics. Indycar as a sport has been well aware of this for decades, and quite acutely following the split of sanctions in 1996.

Even to those who follow me regularly here or on Twitter would have a hard time recalling my stance, and that’s because I’ve never made much of a statement regarding the ‘split of ’96’. I feel that it’s all water under the bridge and focusing forward, with the knowledge of the past, is far more useful than attempting with utter futility to settle a decades-old argument.

In the early days of the ’96 split, I knew what my feelings told me, but we didn’t have the benefit of facts to back up anything we may have wanted to believe or hope. I had a very close friend, who always joined me on the annual Indy 500 trip, who was against the split and vowed to not return to Indy.  I understood this position as my reaction was largely negative to the idea as well.  So much so that I failed to maintain my reserved tickets for the race I’d held since 1988, boycotting by not renewing or attending after 1996. As fate would have it, I wouldn’t have been able to attend the final running in 1997 due to it’s rain delay to Tuesday anyway.

After missing the race for two years, something inside me called me back and I re-ordered tickets for the 1999 race. My bride of 3 years at the time suggested that I might enjoy going back, but that she had seen enough in her two races in ’95 and ’96 to not return if I had no objection. It was alright with me as I knew she really had no interest in being a racing fan. Not really having any new friends who were interested in going, I called my formerly stalwart Indycar friend to see if he wanted to join me. He was surprised I had softened my stance, as he hadn’t.

I attempted to persuade him with some statistics in hopes we could get the band back together and rekindle his love of the race. He said he would give it a chance and we attended the 1999 race, viewing it from a section more northerly in Tower Terrace. The approach of fuel-less Robby Gordon, falling out of the lead directly in front of us on lap 199, was among the most notable dramatic events of that day.

What you see below is a spreadsheet I started in 2000, which I shared with my friend in hopes of maybe showing that the Indy 500 at least was maybe turning for the better. What I had attempted to show following 1999 is that the Indy 500 is on the right trajectory and isn’t really all that different from what we saw as our ‘golden era’ of the late 1980s (HA!). With what little data I could access in the early days of the internet, this is what I sent my friend. 




Out of sheer tradition now, I maintain it to this day. It’s one of those May traditions that now happens in my build-up following qualifying and prior to leaving for Indy and now looks like this.



Despite the original ‘sales’ intent of those very rudimentary numbers from early-2000, it’s now nothing more than a fun, 32-column-wide-and-growing tradition for me now and Indy is all about tradition – even if recalling (and embracing) a not-so-golden era.





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