Pedley: INDYCAR Made Correct Call On Vegas 2012
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
INDYCAR, after one of the most darkly bizarre seasons which American auto racing has ever witnessed, finally made a good call. It did so earlier this month when it took the Las Vegas IndyCar Series race off of its 2012 schedule.
Yes, it took the death of one of its most popular drivers to force that move. But still, the decision was made to yank the event and a complicated and gutsy decision that had to have been.
Dan Wheldon, the winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500, was killed during a 15-car wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16. The horrific, almost surreal, wreck occurred just 11 laps into the highly hyped season-ending race.
Competitors and critics alike bashed the decision to hold the race at the high-banked, 1.5-mile LVMS oval.
Almost two months after the wreck, INDYCAR officials announced that the IndyCar Series race at Vegas had been pulled off of next year’s schedule. And, series CEO Randy Bernard said, a thorough examination of the track’s suitability would be needed before a decision would be made on racing at Vegas after 2012.
Last week, results of an investigation into the Vegas crash and Weldeon’s death were released.
According to the investigation, the fatal blow came from a catch fence support pole which “intruded” into the cockpit of Wheldon’s car and struck him in the head.
The report talked about how the Vegas track’s graduated banking (designed, ironically, to make for more
exciting racing) created chaos during the race as drivers could/did put their cars wherever they wanted.
The report talked about how the catch fence and “soft walls” did the jobs they were designed to do – cushion impact and keep cars and parts of cars from sailing off the track.
It talked about Wheldon doing all the right things – lifting off the power and going low on the track to avoid the point of the initial wreck.
Overall, it insisted the fatal moment was the result of a “perfect storm” of circumstances.
The investigation makes it appear that pulling Vegas from the schedule next year – a year in which new, relatively untested cars will be put onto tracks – made for an easy decision. A common sense decision.
But after the kind of season which INDYCAR went through in 2011, you have re-examine the entire concept of common sense as it pertains to the series.
You have to remember that last season: driver Will Power flashed a double bird to race control and then was given an ovation by his peers when he returned to the paddock; several drivers questioned the decision making abilities of race officials and publicly called for their dismissal; Bernard attempted to lure NASCAR drivers to the season-ending event by promise of a big payday if one could win an event which would be virtually impossible to win for a part timer; the implementation of the new cars and engines was off-again, on-again; an official responsible for enforcing on-track rules was busted for drunk driving; Bernard said he would step down if the Vegas race did not attract X number of viewers; Danica Patrick, the series’ most popular driver, said adios; historic Newman/Haas, an irreplaceable link to the sport’s romantic past, went away; and, finally, Wheldon was killed and the big Vegas finish turned into a horror show.
To be sure, the decision to pull Vegas was economically and politically tough. Speedway Motorsports
Inc. owner Bruton Smith was reportedly adamant in insisting that INDYCAR honor its three-year deal with his Las Vegas track.
INDYCAR, not exactly flush with cash, reportedly had to buy its way out of the 2012-race portion of the deal.
The series also races on several other SMI tracks, including one which hosts one of the most popular IndyCar events – Texas Motor Speedway.
The full 2012 IndyCar Series schedule was supposed to have been released by now. Bernard said that last week during a teleconference with the media. But it has not been released.
Reaching a deal with Texas has reportedly been a sticking point in firming up that schedule so one has to wonder if there is more trouble between SMI and the series and if there is; is political as well as financial?
But pull the Vegas race Bernard did. Assertively. And, correctly.
The series in 2011 took a deep plunge in terms of image and respect. Basically, it lost its grip and humiliated itself. So much so that some around the sport began talking about the possibility of the series vanishing.
And that would be tragic as well.
IndyCar racing is great. It has a wonderful past, features exciting events, cool cars and colorful personalities.
But it needs to collect itself if it is going to re-establish itself. Here’s hoping that doing the right things in the wake of Wheldon’s death will mark a turning point in INDYCAR’s fortunes.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment