Two years ago, the sport of open-wheel racing began the long road to recovery with the unification of the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series. In the time since, the IRL has started its battle for mainstream relevancy and while some positive gains have been made, there is still a litany of problems to combat — many of them byproducts of the crippling split that the sport endured from 1996 to 2008.
One of those problems is the lingering acrimony that still exists amongst many open-wheel fans that are, and may forever remain convinced, that the IRL was an answer to a question that nobody asked. Even though the league’s architect, Tony George, is now out of the picture, his creation is still seen by those people as nothing more than a power grab that cloaked itself with the “all-American, all-oval” flag. Considering how the IRL has shifted from a speedway showcase to a blend of ovals and road/street circuits with international stars during its lifetime, they see absolute hypocrisy and until the league admits that, they’ll never catch themselves watching an IZOD IndyCar Series race.
I doubt that IRL CEO Randy Bernard will send out a press release apologizing to the faithful for George’s fateful decision and admitting that the league was nothing more than a bunch of B.S. However, it appears that he is extending an olive branch to folks still burned up over the split. In today’s Indianapolis Star, the new leader of open-wheel racing tells Curt Cavin that the “Indy Racing League” and “IRL” phrases need to be banished, saying that it was time to “blow up” both of them in an effort to show the series as trying to change.
As Nick Carraway once remarked in The Great Gatsby, you can’t change the past. However, you can create a better future. Perhaps this is one of Bernard’s ways to bring the sport there, by eliminating a name that has brought so much controversy during its existence. Granted, the IRL now simply exists as the handle for the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series, as well as the Firestone Indy Lights. But for many, the slate needs to be wiped completely clean. Then — and only then — would they even consider returning to the fold.
I know that I am on shaky ground whenever I touch upon a conversation that revolves around the split. As you may know, I was merely a child when it began. I wasn’t there. All I know is from the history books. But I don’t believe you need to have been at the genesis in order to sense how much bitterness is still alive in the sport. All you really have to do is look on a message board and you’ll have folks fighting over CART and IRL as if the war was beginning today. So much for peace and harmony two years after everyone got under one roof again.
Some will argue that “burned” fans simply need to either get over it and follow the sport or go away for good and take their needless hate with them. It’s easy to fall into that mindset, especially when the future beckons. But really, it’s all counterproductive. The league simply needs to grow its fanbase and what better way is there than to open the door and welcome old fans home? If the end of the “IRL” name helps get people to come back to the sport, then why not?
The fans of this sport deserve to be truly united under the IndyCar banner. For that reason, an official move to send the “Indy Racing League” name into history is a good idea.