IndyCar’s open-cockpit conundrum

The truth isn't always what we want to hear, but it is still the truth.

Historically speaking, it can be said that IndyCar, in all its various names and acronyms through the years, is the oldest continuous open-wheel and open-cockpit racing in the world. To a great extent, the concept of open-wheel and open-cockpit is what defines the genre.

Racing is dangerous. That danger is part of what draws fans and contestants to the track.

Mark Wilkinson

In fact, no race other than the Indy 500 can say that they have been racing the same basic concept of cars for 100 years. That is why it is so surprising that an echo of support for some type of canopy is rolling into the rules makers of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The false labels of the supportive contingent

Political correctness, with all of its attending hypocrisy, is hard at work changing the looks and history of a true American original. The arguments against open-cockpits cannot easily be refuted. The moral high ground has already been staked out. If you support open-cockpits you are against safety, family, and life.  Open-cockpit fans are dinosaurs who only come out to see wrecks and death.  Open-cockpit fans are ghouls who revel in carnage. What hypocrisy. Everyone is thrilled by the risk. Everyone.

The aspect of danger

Fans come out to see racing for many reasons, but one reason is a powerful trump to the others.  Fans like the thrill. To have thrills, there must be an element of danger, and in IndyCar that element of danger has always been the open-cockpit.  And make no mistake, it is dangerous. The chance of intrusion by debris or fencing exists; that is truth. And debris and fencing will always be there. It is part and parcel of the racing that the drivers understand from the first time they sit in a real race car. Racing is dangerous. That danger is part of what draws fans and contestants to the track.

No doubt about it, the danger in racing should be mitigated. The real question is how much. Rear bumpers were a design feature on the current Dallara to keep cars from climbing on one another and getting airborne. The Dallara chassis was updated to help prevent yaw events and keep the cars grounded during side-impact accidents. The new aero kits will have debris fin options in front of the driver. Barriers against intrusion are being added to protect the drivers’ lower bodies. Even though many of the factors of risk have been lessened, the element of risk must still be there, or it is not really racing. No new fans are going to come to the track because someone says, “Let’s go watch IndyCar. It’s really safe!” We fool ourselves if we don’t think danger sells.

Tradition

Open-cockpits in IndyCar are no less a tradition than 33 on the starting grid at Indy and a bottle of milk for the winner afterwards. They make the series unique and dangerous.  And IndyCar needs those qualities as it builds the momentum and the fan base for 2015 and beyond.  A canopy on an IndyCar is a regression to a sports car prototype.  The series needs to sell what it has, speed and danger.  In fact, speed and danger are what IndyCar racing has always had, and the open-cockpit is one of the reasons why.  This is one time the fans need to say to IndyCar, “Please don’t change.  We love you just the way you are.”

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Wilkins
Article type Commentary