I’ve Spent a Month Watching Old Races. Here’s What I Learned
The IndyCar season ended a month ago, already. Crazy how time flies when your life is falling apart. So with that said, the only way to feed my addiction is to scour YouTube for old broadcasts of CART races. In this time I’ve noticed a few things that we’re missing from today’s races. But also some things I’m glad have gone the way of the do-do. I think it goes without saying, that motorsport has change vastly over the past 30 years.
The single most noticeable thing to me comes in the form of brand awareness. From 1987 to 1997 you’d be hard pressed to find a company that wasn’t on the side of a car. Not to mention on the billboards on the side walls of the tracks or bridges around venues. It’s awesome and depressing, all at the same time. Awesome, because it reminds you of how good things were pre-9/11. Depressing, because it reminds you how few companies see the value in motorsports anymore. Where or why that changed, I don’t know. I can’t see why you wouldn’t want your companies name in front of a national (or global) audience for 2 hrs a week. But what do I know? Lets just hope that one day we can get back to at least 1/4 of what once was in the sponsorship department.
I’ve read some places that certain people are tired of this argument. And to those people I say: “Too bad. We’re complaining for a reason.” It matters. What’s missing in modern racing is spectacle. Cars don’t “Wow!” people anymore. The two biggest factors in that are speed and sound. What makes a race car special is that it can do things unlike nothing else. Also, that it sounds distinctly special. IndyCars are loud today. Louder than they seem on TV, for sure. Formula 1 cars are loud too, by Prius standards. But these cars don’t scream. These cars don’t touch the soul of your forefathers as they blow past you with enough force to make you question your choice in seating position. The 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s open-wheel cars were scary, and they sounded like it. Call me a dinosaur or not being “progressive” enough but these things leave an impression. I’ve yelled about it for years: drag racing hasn’t changed in 50 years, the races last 3 seconds, and it will literally blow your ear drums out if you’re not careful. People keep coming back, week in week out. Be “progressive” if you want, but don’t complain when our favorite sport dies out because it’s not exciting anymore.
Again, I don’t know what changed. Maybe it was “the split”. Maybe parents did a shitty job of bringing their kids to the races for 20 years. Maybe it was all that “progress” that demonized the automobile. All I know is that there was a time when Indycar was standing room only. The places were packed to the brim. It’s amazing to see cars hustling down the front stretch of Portland or Cleveland or Homestead and see the grandstands look like a modern day NASCAR event. The Indycar glory days were special and people knew it. Why did they stop feeling that way? What could bring them back? I wish I knew. When IndyCar loses venues like Watkins Glen because of attendance, it just makes you wonder.
Today’s crop of talent is nothing to scoff at. Dixon, Newgarden, Power, Rahal, Hinchcliff and Hunter-Reay are legit. Dixon obviously being in the top 10 in wins. You could throw Pagenaud and Bourdais in there as well. These guys would hold their own in a shopping cart race if you paid them for it. The legends of the past are hard to forget, though. Andretti, Bob Rahal, Zanardi, Vasser, De Farren, Tracey, Foyt, Guerreo. They were legends in their own right. No complaints here about the quality of pilots. Now or before.
Although the consistency of the Indycar schedule has gotten much better the past few years there are some venues I wish we could go back to. Namely, in my opinon, Laguna Seca. I know it’s small, narrow and short. But the picturesque scenery, the events that could surround it (Pebble Beach Indycar weekend anyone?) I just think it’d be so much better of an event in Nor-Cal. Especially compared to Sonoma that despite it’s dedication to the series, is boring. It’s fast but boring. Especially as a season ending track. I’d also love to see the Milwaukee Mile return the weekend after Indianapolis. It was that way for 30 years. It’s in the mid-west, following the biggest motor race on the planet. Keep the momentum and stay in your neighborhood. Cleveland is another staple I’d like to see return to the fold. Great track, had great attendance and was so unique. In terms of what’s on offer now, I like mostly everything the calendar has to offer. I’d love to see a return to the western side of Canada. I think an event in Mexico is crucial. Circut of the Americas is a must if you ask me. It’s the top circuit in all of North America. The top North American open-wheel series should be racing there. Period. Also, would an event in Australia or England not work? I say a 20 race schedule is perfect. Start in February, end in October. Schedule gets heavy in the summer, lightens in fall.
After spending all this time on my phone, laptop and YouTube app on my Fire TV I think it’s safe to say the growth of Indycar is apparent. It’s not where it was, but it’s definitely on it’s way. The cars don’t sound as angry as they used to but they’re plenty fast. If not faster. The class of driver has done nothing but improve. It takes serious grit to drive today’s car. Indycar is one of the last forms of racing that is truly scary to watch. On ovals especially, the action is close and lightning quick. Sponsorship ebbs and flows. I’m a firm believer that most things in life are cyclical, and I do believe that major sponsors will come back around. I do suggest watching for yourself if you get the time. It’s so interesting to see and hear what was the “thing” of that era. Like Formula 1 having paddle shifters as early as 1991! That was crazy when I saw that. Now that’s as standard as a gas cap. I’ve grown fond of the old school. But it’s given me a new appreciation for the current and future.