CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana personal thoughts

CART - Marlboro 500 Final Thoughts INDY CARS - FONTANA FINAL THOUGHTS From: CURT WEBSTER (SKFX17A) Time: 09/29 12:26 PM Just one reporter's opinion . . . ...

CART - Marlboro 500 Final Thoughts INDY CARS - FONTANA FINAL THOUGHTS

From: CURT WEBSTER (SKFX17A)

Time: 09/29 12:26 PM

Just one reporter's opinion . . . CART and the California Speedway succeeded in giving us an historic weekend, but didn't provide a particularly memorable race with the inaugural Marlboro 500. Mauricio Gugelmin's flirtation with the limits of the Theory of Relativity on Saturday was the weekend's biggest story. The race itself fell victim to the unprecedented speeds and the unbearable heat.

Few drivers were willing to risk wheel-to-wheel combat at 230 mph on blistering tires, so fans were treated to an afternoon of mostly single-file racing. In some ways, the controversy which Jimmy Vasser raised over the non-yellow which allowed Mark Blundell to pass for the lead works to CART's advantage. At least people have something to talk about besides how hot it was in Fontana.

There's no point here in berating CART for either the speeds or the heat. They're moving to fix both. Andrew Craig, unable to ignore the outpouring of concern from his drivers, assured the media after the race that steps will be taken over the off-season to slow the cars down. As for the heat, next year's race will be run on November 1, a safer bet in Southern California for more moderate temperatures.

Unfortunately, CART may not get back many in the sellout crowd who might have been converted to Indy car racing with a more competitive (and less uncomfortable) event. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and the Marlboro 500 just didn't do very well.

Los Angeles (we'll include Fontana for market purposes) is one of the most fickle and volatile sports markets in the country. L.A. fans will quickly turn their backs on teams and events which don't dazzle. Just ask the NFL's Rams and Raiders. (And the NBA's Clippers, bless their little hearts, who keep hanging in despite being ignored by fans and abused by the press.) The word-of-mouth from first-time race goers on Sunday can't be real positive.

All of which underscores the need for drastic action by both CART and IRL to improve marketing. Twenty years ago, Indy car racing was the major league motorsports circuit in America. Today, NASCAR has long since surpassed CART/IRL with its aggressive and innovative marketing strategies. Craig acknowledged on Sunday that he may have something to learn from Bill France about selling auto races.

Sunday's yawner aside, Indy cars have put on some great shows this year and it's a shame that nobody except us hard-core open-wheeled fans seem to have heard about them. CART's Portland finish and the IRL's Charlotte run were two of the best races I've ever seen and it's not as if they were anomalies. Week in and week out, Indy car drivers have been providing us with close and competitive racing. But, the popular perception remains that NASCAR has the best racing around.

CART and IRL getting together on the rules may be a naive pipe dream, but some sort of detente on marketing may be a matter of survival. Arie Luyendyk's appearance piqued interest in the Marlboro 500 in part because people were interested in seeing how the IRL's top man would do in a CART race with a good car. That kind of cross-pollination works to the benefit of both series. Imagine the marketing bang that both series would get if some of CART's pilots were in a position to accept IRL rides at Indianapolis.

I know there's lots of reasons why such things may not be possible, but we need to lose the "It's- their- end-of- the boat- that's- sinking" mentality in Indy car racing. We've got a product that should be saleable, but somehow we're not getting through to the market.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON COVERAGE: I hope that @Speed succeeded in providing you with timely and informative reports. I apologize for the errors (initially reporting de Ferran as the other driver in Zanardi's first accident), but we're trying to get stories to you ASAP and sometimes mistakes get made.

Overall, though, I'm pleased with the volume and quality of the coverage we provided. This is an interactive process and your constructive criticism is invited. Please post or e-mail any comments or suggestions for improvement. @Speed will close out its 1997 Indy car coverage in two weeks with the IRL's Las Vegas 500 Oct. 9-11. Let us know how we can make that weekend better. Thanks to Les Welch and Len Ashburn, and thanks to a new friend, Robert Bock. See you in Vegas, Curt Webster

posted by Len in Indy

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Arie Luyendyk , Jimmy Vasser , Mark Blundell