Matt Stallknecht · Wednesday October 23, 2013
It’s truly hard to believe another season of IndyCar Racing is in the books. And what a season it was! As my loyal readers know, I am a staunch critic of INDYCAR, and often find fault with many of the decisions the organization makes on a day to day basis. One thing I could not find fault with in 2013 was the racing.
The 2013 season was a renaissance of sorts for the sport of American championship open-wheel racing. Freed from the chains of Danica-mania, and a full two years removed the tragic death of Dan Wheldon, 2013 was a fresh opportunity for the sport to begin to reinvent itself after years of turmoil. Indeed, despite the many problems that plague INDYCAR, 2013 was a success, and it’s all because of the on-track product.
Forget the TV ratings. Forget the scheduling blunders. Forget the seemingly endless organizational mismanagement. All of that will serve to remedy itself in due time. The IZOD IndyCar Series had what can only be described as its best season in many years in terms of racing. We saw a record-setting Indianapolis 500, a reinvigorated street racing product, continued improvement of the oval track product, a gripping championship battle, and one of the best overall IndyCar races in years at the MAV TV 500 at Fontana. For the first time since perhaps the infamous “split,” American open-wheel racing fans can finally hang their hat at the end of a racing season and say “this sport is finally on the right track.”
That is not a statement IndyCar fans have been able to make since at least the late 1980s. Seriously. IndyCar racing has been so maligned over the years that not a single previous season has ended on a note of hope. Fans of this fine sport have seen beloved drivers die, they’ve seen corrupt leaders plunge the sport into financial disasters, they’ve seen schisms and mergers, they’ve seen bad racing, and they’ve had to sit helplessly as their sport devolved into near irrelevance. For those fans who stuck through all of those hard times, 2013 was a welcome relief and a bona fide reward for their patience over the years. 2013 was IndyCar Nation’s hope for a better future.
Of course, none of this is to say that the current state of IndyCar is all roses and rainbows. That would be an incorrect statement. INDYCAR’s leadership, while certainly improving, still has a long way to go in terms of earning the trust of fans. The sport is absolutely still on shaky financial ground, with sponsor IZOD announcing its intentions to pull out of the sport. And as for the teams…well, let’s just say that some of them are hanging by a thread.
But at the end of the day, what really matters is the racing. Good leadership can make a huge difference in bringing this sport out of its rut, but that leadership is nothing without good racing. All of the money in the world can buy the sport exposure and keep the teams afloat, but you can’t just buy a “good racing” product.
Good racing happens naturally. It’s the result of drivers who race hard every lap. It’s the result of a points system that rewards winning. It’s the result of a well-developed car that is built to put on competitive shows for the fans. IndyCar has all of these things in spades for the first time since the split. For the first time in years, INDYCAR is actually in a position to capitalize on the one thing which can move this sport to a better place: solid racing.
INDYCAR’s job in 2014 is thus a simple one: keep doing what it’s already doing. Good racing is the only thing that has the power to save this sport, and as long as that good racing product remains, the sport will stay afloat. If INDYCAR management can replicate its 2013 policy of staying out of the way of the racing, this sport will have a fighting chance.
If any INDYCAR leaders are reading this, I want you to take away one thing, and one thing only. Your 2013 season should be your blueprint for your future. Indianapolis, Fontana, Sao Paulo, Iowa…these races exemplified what the sport is supposed to be. Learn from them. Learn to let the racing speak for itself. These are the keys to IndyCar’s future success.
2013 was the beginning of a new IndyCar. A better IndyCar. An IndyCar that prioritizes the racing over everything else. If this sport can simply build on the foundation that was set this year, a prosperous future may very well come to this sport after all. Let’s just hope they don’t screw this one up.
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