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Woody: IRL Forgotten But Not Gone

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 13 2010
IRL inspectors go over a Target Chip Ganassi Racing car in Brazil on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

IRL inspectors go over a Target Chip Ganassi Racing car in Brazil on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

Have you heard something about the Indy Racing League kicking off its season Sunday?

Me neither.

I thought maybe it had changed its name and entered the FBI’s witness protection program.

I snooped around, did some digging, paid an informant, and discovered that the IRL is scheduled to run the Sao Paulo Indy 300.

You’ve gotta give the IRL credit, it knows how to keep a secret.

About the only time you hear the IRL mentioned these days is in an umpteenth story about Danica Patrick. If/when Danica gives her heart to NASCAR and totally abandons the IRL, the latter will be in big(ger) trouble.

If you think NASCAR has a vanilla champion, you ought to check out his IRL counterpart, Dario Franchitti. Actually Dario’s not vanilla, just vanished.

I live in Dario’s hometown and I never see or hear a word about him. Even when he won the championship last fall Franchitti barely generated a media murmur – a couple of graphs buried back in the sports section and a 10-second blip on a local TV sportscast. If you blinked you missed it.

A local driver captures an international driving title and gets virtually no coverage.

The IRL should dedicate a tomb to the Unknown Racer.

Whoever’s running the IRL is running it into the ground. A decision was made three years ago to abandon such venues as Nashville Superspeedway in favor of locales like Sao Paulo. You can imagine how sponsors are salivating over that kind of exposure.

So instead of getting reams of coverage in such major sports markets as Nashville, the IRL gets zip.

The IRL runs 17 races and only one – May’s Hoosier hootenanny – attracts much non-Danica attention.

It’s too bad, because in recent years the IRL has had competitive, exciting racing. Trouble is, it’s been done in secret. Putting on a great show doesn’t mean anything if nobody’s watching.

Danica revived interest in the IRL when she splashed down a few years ago and her presence will continue to generate coverage wherever she races — at least for a while longer. But there’s a limit to how long the IRL can ride the Danica PR express.

Back when the IRL raced in Nashville it was a pleasure to work with the IRL drivers. They always went out of their way to cooperate with the media, unlike many of today’s NASCAR’s stars. Ditto the IRL’s PR staff – they worked overtime to cater to every media request and help generate coverage for the league.

But somewhere up the chain of command somebody dropped the ball. They made some disastrous decisions about where to hold their races. Just as interest in the IRL was starting to build, they blew it.

I became a fan of the IRL during the league’s years in Nashville. I miss working with such drivers as Dario, Danica and Helio Castroneves. I miss the excitement their races brought to Music City.

It was fun while it lasted. RIP, IRL.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 13 2010
14 Comments

14 Comments »

  • Thomo says:

    Great article. Still, there are many open-wheel series that can’t seem to plan their way around their own incompetence. Fans just want racing, teams & drivers just want racing, tracks just want racing – so, why is it so hard to organize and run a racing series?

    • Brent says:

      Unification happened at the start of the recession so the IRL had trouble capitalizing on this. The sport does seem to be drift less when marketing themselves – and the leadership has been poor to say the least the last 15 years or so, in my opinion.

      I think the key for the IRL is the next generation of car. Whatever they pick it must bring more engine manufacturers into the fold. Keeping Honda and trying to pick up groups like Hyundai and Audi might be possible. Getting three or four manufacturers would help and getting more of the races on free television in the US would help as well.

  • ANM says:

    “I can name at least eight American drivers that compete,”

    Is that both North and South Americans?

    Just checked the results of the dumbfoundingly pointless extra practice sesson that was added after qualifying was cancelled and the track grinding isn’t done, out of twenty four entries three are North Americans. Guess Sarah, Graham and Davey will be added as they make special guest appearances as the season grids on.

    • Brent says:

      The best teams in the IRL look for the best drivers not the best American drivers.

      You would rather watch a racing series comprised of all American drivers, and one Columbian? Now that is riveting stuff…

      Funny you all make the case for the IRL being down and out, but you seem to know many of the details.

      I am sure you criticized NASCAR when the track was coming apart for their biggest race of the year.

  • ANM says:

    They now want what they helped kill.
    Living in the past? LOL
    The denial is unbelievable.
    The diehard hanger on Déjà vu trip compared to a few years ago is nothing short of as hilarious or as brutally reveiling.
    There is no good news to report. How old are those Dallaras? Versus?
    Qualifying postponed? Grinding the track for tomorrow?

  • Barfie says:

    Nice try, Dude. It’s only been mentioned all over the Internet, repeatedly, for days. Sports Illustrated, ESPN, USAToday… and so on. Qualifying postponed? Grinding the track for tomorrow? Right there on SI, USAToday, etc. Furthermore, IZOD has been making ad buys on Network TV and ESPN.

    Whatever it is you’re hoping for—I’m assuming you’d like things to be like they were during CART’s heyday—well, you’re just going to have to wait. The IRL is not NASCAR, and this ain’t the early 90’s. One thing’s for sure, the story is getting a lot more press now than Champ Car was getting a few years ago. It’s just a sad fact that it’s a long way up from the bottom, and the worst economy since the Great Depression isn’t helping matters. Kind of hard to make a big noise without lots of big partners. The IRL has Honda and IZOD, and IMO Honda doesn’t really put meaningful effort into getting the word out.

    As for your being so utterly uninformed, I’m guessing that you’re probably just a bitter malcontent living in the past. Nothing to be ashamed of, the World needs malcontents too!

    • Brent says:

      You are right, the IRL is not NASCAR, it is not a domestic racing series. It should seek out venues in Shanghai and the Gold Coat of Austrsalia, not the hillbilly lights of a no name ovals in Nashville TN. Kansas is a good track, and a solid warmup for Indy. Other than that I don’t know why the IRL should have more events in the midwest.

  • Brent says:

    The IRL needs to continue their expansion in places such as South America and Asia. The series should build itself as an elite, international series. Small market areas like Nashville and Kentucky are certainly expendable.

    Besides there is already a domestic racing series in the US, its called NASCAR.

  • Brent says:

    The IRL should look continue to expand overseas in places like South America and Asia. Races in Brazil and Japan are good but the IRL should also look into China and Australia again. Races in small market US areas like Nashville and Kentucky are certainly expendable. The IRL needs to build itself an an elite, international series.

    There is already a domestic racing series in the United States called NASCAR.

  • Fat Cat says:

    Mr. Woody, Isn’t it the responsibility of the press to report such things? Did you do a story in the local paper you contribute to?
    Did you do an interview? The press, who controls what the world reads, sees, and hears apparently did not do their job and dropped the ball missing a golden opportunity to capitalize on a local “hometown” hero. You missed the chance too I recall after Mr. Franchitti won the IRL in a stunning fashion in 2007.
    It’s the job of the media to report news. Remember, it is you who influences the public for better or for worse. So when you say RIP to the IRL you can look to yourself and pat yourself on the back. Good Job!
    The IRL has changed somewhat from it’s original concept, true, however, the product now is exciting and dynamic with a diversity of drivers and circuits. And off the top of my head, I can name at least eight American drivers that compete, not quite as dire as you make it sound in your article. For being a writer who claims to have so much knowledge about the IRL you know very little about the drivers.
    As for never seeing him around, you just don’t go to the same places he goes too. He and his wife have a chef, so they don’t dine out often, but when they do, I assure you it’s right in downtown Franklin.
    Try and have a nice day Chicken Little.

  • Fat Cat says:

    Mr. Woody, Isn’t it the responsibility of the press to report such things? Did you do a story in the local paper you contribute to?
    Did you do an interview? The press, who controls what the world reads, sees, and hears apparently did not do their job and dropped the ball missing a golden opportunity to capitalize on a local “hometown” hero. You missed the chance too I recall after Mr. Franchitti won the IRL in a stunning fashion in 2007.
    It’s the job of the media to report news. Remember, it is you who influences the public for better or for worse. So when you say RIP to the IRL you can look to yourself and pat yourself on the back. Good Job!
    The IRL has changed somewhat from it’s original concept, true, however, the product now is exciting and dynamic with a diversity of drivers and circuits. And off the top of my head, I can name at least eight American drivers that compete, not quite as dire as you make it sound in your article. For being a writer who claims to have so much knowledge about the IRL you know very little about the drivers.
    As for never seeing him around, you just don’t go to the same places he goes too. He and his wife have a chef, so they don’t dine out often, but when they do, I assure you it’s right in downtown Franklin.
    Try and have a nice day Chicken Little.

  • ANM says:

    Seems a very fitting ending to a very bad idea that was so poorly carried out by people that had no idea what they were killing.
    The answer now is the Delta Thang and the PBR. LOL

  • ANM says:

    Seems a very fitting ending to a very bad idea that was so poorly carried out by people that had no idea what they were killing.
    The answer now is the Delta Thang and the PBR. LOL

  • Glen Harness says:

    When I read they were racing in Birmingham, I naturally assumed, given their new-found interest in racing outside the US, it was Birmingham, England. But it really is Birmingham, Alabama. They can’t fill 25,000 seats in Nashville on an oval, but for some reason they think an open wheel road-course race in the deep south is going to work?

    They definitely have forgotten their roots. The IRL was created to feature American drivers on oval tracks. Now I think there are maybe 3 Americans and 6 or 8 oval tracks in the IRL…