Pedley: IndyCar Challenge Will Likely Go Unmet
Randy Bernard quite obviously has a admirable streak of P.T. Barnum running through him. What he might need as he continues his efforts to nurse the IZOD IndyCar Series to improved health, however, is a streak of introspective practicality.
Because grand ideas need to have a thick ground wire attached to them in order to make them viable ideas.
Since taking over as head of INDYCAR prior to last season, the former shot-caller for Professional Bull Riding has been highly active in the boundary-testing-ideas department.
He’s set about revamping everything from the cars to the schedule in an approach to leadership which is clearly marketing-based.
Some of the changes appear to be very positive, like new the blue-ribbon panel suggested chassis and engine formula which has already attracted new vendors like Lotus and General Motors to the series.
Other ideas appear to have been put in motion before being thoroughly thought out.
Like the $5-million challenge which was announced last week.
From the sound of it, the season-ending challenge to drivers from other racing series to race in Las Vegas for $5 million will likely go unanswered from the Sprint Cup ranks – the ranks which would make the event most appealing to fans.
So says Juan Pablo Montoya, who may be the best suited Cup driver to win the big pot of money.
“Let’s not even talk about if I would like to do it or not, it’s just impossible logistics wise,” Montoya said.
In a teleconference with the media to announce the challenge, Bernard said, “A very important element of our sport is that these are the best, fastest, versatile race car drivers in the world. Well, we’re here to put our money where our mouth is. If any race car driver outside IndyCar can win the Vegas race, we will give you $5 million.”
A couple of NASCAR drivers called the challenge interesting. Tempting, even.
But Montoya countered with a swift kick from the jack boot of reality.
“If you really were going to go to try to win the 5 million bucks,” the former open-wheel star said, “you would have to get all the practices down and do it right. And I think we are racing that weekend aren’t we? Initially I would say no. It’s intriguing and I think it’s intriguing for a lot of people. I think a lot of people are going ohhhh, but being realistic it’s impossible. Are you going to show up on Sunday and race without practice and hope for the best? Who the heck is going to win that?”
Then there are the logistics of time and place.
The Vegas IndyCar race is schedule for Sunday, Oct. 16. The Sprint Cup Series is racing in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday, Oct. 15th.
And Cup is not just racing in Charlotte that weekend, they are celebrating. That is the week when voting for the next class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be held. A lot of eyes will be on that and a lot of teams will want to be around their homes and bases of operation that weekend.
Also, the Charlotte race is held during the middle of NASCAR’s playoffs – the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
It certainly seems unlikely that teams will want to commute a couple thoursand miles to Vegas to practice and qualify in cars with which they are vaguely familiar with at best.
In stepped Montoya again. No way, he said, not even if INDYCAR or Vegas owner Bruton Smith kicked in with use of a private jets and helicopters.
“Yeah, but I’m trying to think. So it means I would have to start in the back of the field at Charlotte even if I made it to the race. Because if you think about eight hours, if the race is at 6:00 I need to be in the plane at 10:00 in the morning. Ain’t going to happen.”
Montoya would appear to be a top candidate to attempt meeting the challenge. He’s driven Indycars before, winning the Indianapolis 500, in fact.
He drives Cup cars for an owner who also owns an IndyCar operation so he would have access to equipment, personnel and data.
But even he says there is no way he would try it.
About the best Bernard could hope for when it comes to attracting NASCAR drivers to the event would
be a driver who does not have a chance at winning the Chase – somebody like Nationwide driver Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar championships years ago – or Robby Gordon, who also has a serious open-wheel background.
But those are not the kind of drivers who the challenge needs to become a viable marketing tool. The challenge would need a Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch.
Or, Montoya and that ain’t going to happen it has become clear.
While the challenge is being viewed as non-viable from the NASCAR garages, it also me be being viewed as undesirable from the IndyCar paddocks.
You’ve got to figure that the series’ full-time drivers – especially those with a chance to win the championship as they arrive in Vegas – would not be thrilled about sharing the track with NASCAR or rally or sports car drivers who will be running all out in pursuit of nothing more than a big payday.
A couple days after the challenge was announced, an IndyCar insider told me, no, it is unlikely that there will be any high profile takers. Not logistically or economically feasible.
But, the person added, you’ve got to like the way Bernard is aggressively attacking his job.
Yep, I will give him that, for sure.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments