Many will assume that the title of this week's column is based in sarcasm. It is not. We can debate whether Sunday's Indy 500 was a “good” race, or if the NASCAR-like red flag ruined an honest end to the event (all we need now is “overtime”), but we cannot challenge the fact that it was entertaining.
It was, in a very real sense, the best spec racing that a lot of money can buy. It appears to be just as good as the best spec racing that a lot less money could buy just a few years ago.
This will hit like a sucker punch to the midriff for those bitter souls who still love to hate the Indy Racing League, but this much is undeniable… Indycar's current oval racing product is indistinguishable from what the IRL gave us for over a decade.
Of course, there are other differences between the old IRL and today's Indycar, but on the ovals, the spirit of Tony George is alive and well. Spec cars. Leased crate engines. Protect the inside line. Stay in the lead draft.
Remember all those races at Texas and California in which Sam Hornish and Scott Dixon and Castroneves would run side by side for ten laps at a time? How 'bout the 2006 IRL Indy 500 when Hornish drafted past Marco Andretti for the win?
Let's examine the formula for a moment.
The old IRL offered us Dallara and Honda and twenty cars in the lead draft driven by Dixon, Castroneves and Andretti.
Today's Indycar gives us Dallara and Honda and twenty cars in the lead draft driven by Dixon, Castroneves and Andretti.
Tony George should sue for copyright infringement.
It is eternally amusing that the same people who viciously attacked the IRL now sing the praises of Sunday's Indy 500 when in fact, the actual product on oval tracks is identical. The only real difference is that the average driver with no money had a long shot at the IRL, while he has none whatsoever today.
The lesson here is painful but obvious. As long as spec cars and leased crate engines are mandatory, it makes little difference who manages the series or what names decorate the valve covers. It makes no difference if we call it the “IRL” or “Indycar.” At the end of the day we still have a spec series.
On the bright side, there is little doubt that we have maximized the current package. A spec series cannot offer a better race than what we saw Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis. The masses will find it entertaining. The pass for the lead was right on cue.
A return to true greatness will have to wait, but in the meantime, this really was the best spec racing that a lot of money can buy.
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions on NBCSN
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