May 18, 2014
I grew up in Indianapolis and I live for the Indy 500. I’ve worked as a network announcer on the TV crew during the month of May. I’ve watched Indycar my whole life. But I have no idea how the pole position will be determined today.
The problem is not that the process is too complicated. I’m watching it on TV right now. The real problem is that I don’t care anymore. I don’t care anymore because the purity of the sport has been sacrificed on the altar of Disney-style entertainment.
Everything feels plastic. Phony turbocharger settings are used to pump up speeds and make TV headlines with crate engines. They've added a Lights race, a Grand Prix, and a new qualifying format. They added Sammy Hagar, Kid Rock and Poison. Still, they have empty grandstands.
Just showing up gets you in the race since spec car mandates have driven costs through the roof, eliminated competition and made Bump Day obsolete. We once entered every May wondering who would make the race. Now we wonder if there will be enough cars to have one.
Spec cars have given us NASCAR-style drafting and lousy fuel mileage for the guy running point. This results in a race that no one wants to lead. Leaders gave away P1 eighty-some times last year. We hail the new records and call this "competition." But it's synthetic competition at best and anyone west of Charlotte knows it.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. Over one hundred thousand fans once showed up for pole day qualifying. Today, vast stretches of empty grandstands manifest mass dissatisfaction with the product on the pavement. The crowds at this year’s pole day and the new Grand Prix of Indianapolis were embarrassing.
TV coverage of qualifying has wrapped up, and it looks like Ed Carpenter won the pole. He won it yesterday, too. Apparently it counts this time. The “Fast Nine or Six or Eleven or Whatever” was supposed to artificially generate drama, but watching the same guy do the same thing twice is an anti-climactic monument to redundancy.
I’ll be in Turn Three with my boys this year to watch the race. This is still home. It’s still the 500 and I still love it. But something deep inside tells me that we traded our soul for a circus. We lost greatness in the quest for popularity.
I’m awaiting the day when Indycar dumps its failed experiment with spec cars. Then we won’t need gimmicks any more.
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions on NBCSN
Boschett Timepieces/Acorn Cabinetry #95