Indianapolis 500 is paying price for diluted series
Posted 5/18/2006 11:16 PM ET
Paul Dana has been dead for eight weeks and, not surprisingly, the racing landscape that helped dig his asphalt grave hasn't modified one iota. That not only is tragic, it should be unacceptable for one of the wealthiest families in Indiana and those who mourn the passing of successful open-wheel racing in America.
Saturday is Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500, but the fissure in a bifurcated racing series seems wider than ever. With its talent and fan base diluted and two series choking on the financial fumes of declining sponsorship and television ratings, the race no longer can be considered the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
That title, trademark or not, belongs to the Daytona 500.
Rather, it has denigrated into a sorry sight, reflecting an ailing industry and the ineffective unification attempts between IndyCar founder Tony George — his grandfather Tony Hulman bought the track after World War II — and Champ Car's Kevin Kalkhoven.
That is why this time of year no longer carries the cachet it once did, when entry lists, grandstands and hotels were full. Names such as Andretti, Foyt and Unser sprinkle a watered-down, shrunken field. Those famous names merely serve to jog our memories, generational remnants of a bygone era when open-wheel racing was king of the road and NASCAR sucked tailpipe, when delivering money wasn't the prerequisite for climbing into the cockpit of an Indy-style car.
E-mail Jon Saraceno at firstname.lastname@example.org
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What is unusual about this article is that it appears in the mass media at all. Open wheel racing in the U.S. is now a niche sport at best, hardly rates a blip on the screens of most sport fans in the US. This fall from grace happened after Tony George split the sport by starting the Indy Racing League, reserving most of the spots in the Indy 500 field to his series, freezing out the CART teams. Not only have both series struggled, but the Indianapolis 500, once known as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing -with its largest one day crowds for a sporting event can not even sell out the race. The last 500 before the split, my friends tickets had been passed down by his in-laws, who had waited years to finally upgrade to the Turn 4 location, ticket was easily worth several hundred dollars. Last time I was there to watch Juan Pablo Montoya smoke the field, we just showed up and paid something like 20 bucks for some good grandstand tickets.