Sparky Appeased by IRL Move (Sept. 15, 1997) -- Sparky's great-great uncle (he was a Blue Crown, and proud of it!) once told a heart-wrenching story to us when we were just a tyke. "Sparky," he said, "I just can't please the old woman. If I...

Sparky Appeased by IRL Move

(Sept. 15, 1997) -- Sparky's great-great uncle (he was a Blue Crown, and proud of it!) once told a heart-wrenching story to us when we were just a tyke. "Sparky," he said, "I just can't please the old woman. If I stand on the porch and pee in the yard, she gets mad. And if I stand in the yard and pee on the porch, she gets mad."

Uncle Blue and his "old woman" managed to survive that potential rift in their relationship, but the story reminds Sparky of the situation Tony George is in these days. We don't know how many people we've heard cussin' and bemoanin' the fact that they had to be in Indianapolis the whole dang month of May for Indy 500 activities. And now, ever since the announcement that the Indy schedule has been sliced approximately in half, we can't keep track of the bitchin'. And some of the same people who bitched about the Month of May are bitchin' now!

We know better than to think we can please everybody, but we think it's high time somebody blew a whistle here and offered a moderate opinion. We think the reduced Indy 500 schedule is great. OK, OK, OK. We knew there would be cries of protest.

First, let's talk about the economic impact on the city of Indianapolis. Sparky is foursquare in favor of American free enterprise, and we think it's great when the circus (in the form of a major racing series) comes to town and people spend their money there. However, the month-long Indy schedule exacts the greatest toll on the circus itself -- or, at least, its personnel.

The half-million who gather (or used to; just ask any CART sympathizer) on race day don't spend 30 days in Indianapolis. Only the race team members and the few unlucky (and ever-bitchin') journalists who are compelled to be there spend the whole month in Indy.

Next, let's talk about the most abused word in any discussion of the Indianapolis 500 -- "tradition." If this octogenarian event has any tradition at all, it is constant change. Virtually everything except the race distance itself (and even that, on some rain-marred days) has changed since the first 500-mile race was run in 1911. Why, there have been riding mechanics and single-seaters; front drive, rear drive and four-wheel drive cars; diesels and jet turbines; gasoline and methanol, diesel fuel and kerosene; monster Novi V8s, big straight-8 Millers, little four-cylinder DOHC Offies and little-bitty Cosworth and Ilmor Chevy V8s; carburetors and fuel injection; two-day, then four-day qualification systems; 33-car fields; smaller-than-33-car fields and bigger-than-33-car fields; crushed cinders, bricks and asphalt; and, yes, FOREIGN DRIVERS WITH FUNNY NAMES and red-blooded Americans with names like Wilbur Shaw and Bill Holland and Jimmy Bryan and Parnelli Jones. And, for that matter, there have been foreign drivers with easy-to-pronounce names like Jim Clark and Graham Hill, and American drivers with out-of-the-ordinary names like -- well, like Vukovich, for example, or Sneva.

Before anybody bothers to suggest it, no, we don't work for Tony George or the Speedway or the IRL. We realize that all of you who are outraged over the announced cutback in the 500 schedule are just voicing your opinions -- and that's what we're doing. For what it's worth, we think a shorter schedule is just great.

* * *

Speaking of the 14 days of May, the Sparkster knows that while the CARTsters had an oh-ficial "no comment" on the Indy 500 diet plan, it was real tough for Andy Craig and the boys to keep from saying "I hate to say I told you so, but...."

CART folks have been asking for years to cut the lead time down to the race and in the process cut the costs down, and now the IRL turns around and says "ummmm, errrr, it would be a good idea to do this so we can cut costs."

As the kids say, "well, duh!" Maybe they could use the money on something useful, like giving Tony George a membership in Toastmasters.

* * *

As Sparky bided his time watching boring blowout after blowout in recent college football games (did Florida really have to score 82 points against Central Michigan?), it dawned on him how to put some excitement back into a stagnant racing series.

There's no question watching IROC races is like watching paint dry, grass grow or listening to a Tony George press conference. But if the powers that be had half a brain, they'd let the most quotable driver in any series show what he can do on an oval track. If they had less than half a brain, they'd be baseball owners, but that's another column. Where were we? Oh yeah. We're talking here about the 1996 International Motorsports Hall of Fame Driver of the Year -- NHRA Funny Car driver John Force -- who has all but dropped on bended knee to be allowed, pretty please, to run in the series.

You can argue that as a dragster, Force isn't used to racing in traffic and isn't used to turns because going left in his series is indeed a bad thing. We counter with this: Robby Gordon races in this series, why can't Force? And if Force runs his car half as well as he fires off one-liners, he'll win the darn thing.

* * *

Rumors, hearsay and innuendo department: The PPG CART World Series season is almost over, but the rumor mill is just getting geared up, it seems. We hear that Barry Green and Team Kool Green will have a new driver and a new powerplant in '98 -- Dario Franchitti and Mercedes. We're not sure where that leaves Parker Johnstone or Carl Hogan. ... We also understand that, despite a recent press release in which CART's Andrew Craig denied that PPG will no longer be the series' sponsor, Federal Express is lined up to become the title sponsor next year.

Also on the CART trail, we hear that Budweiser may be cutting back on its financial support of the Newman-Haas team next year. For one thing, A-B is going to be pumping more money into Bill France's kingdom next year; and for another, the way we understand it, Bud is less than happy with its motorsports marketing efforts in an Indy car series that doesn't race at Indy.

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Series General
Drivers John Force , Robby Gordon , Dario Franchitti , Jim Clark , Parnelli Jones , Barry Green , Tony George