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Woody: The Fate Of IndyCar Rests In Pair of Very Petite Hands

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 25 2009
Danica Patrick has a huge following among IndyCar fans. Is she essential to the series' success? (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

Danica Patrick has a huge following among IndyCar fans. Is she essential to the series' success? (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

RacinToday.com

As I watched the Indy Racing League’s 20-car field romp through the Iowa cornfields Sunday, I couldn’t help thinking:

How long could it last without Danica?

I’d give it about 10 minutes, in terms of general public interest.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that grim – yet – but it’s getting there.

Twenty cars? They had a bigger field in the Clinker Division last Saturday night at Fairgrounds Speedway.

The four most interesting things in Sunday’s IRL race were (1) Danica Patrick’s taped pre-race segment, (2) Danica Patrick’s early-race lead (3) Danica Patrick’s steamy in-race commercials and (4) Danica Patrick’s post-race interview.

If/when Danica jilts the IRL for NASCAR, the former may pine away.

The IRL was wheezing on life support when Danica hit the scene a few years ago and almost single-handedly revived its pulse. Today, despite having won just one race, she’s the league’s star attraction, generating more interest than all the other drivers combined.

Open-wheel racing’s Great Unification fizzled. Maybe the economy’s to blame, but for whatever reason the formerly lean race fields remain as skimpy as Danica’s SI Swimsuit bikini. The open-wheel times remain rough, and without Danica they’d become Depression Era.

Last Sunday’s race is a case in point: Start out with only 20 cars and lose two or three at the outset – and suddenly it looks like a glorified go-kart race.

That’s not a rap on the rest of the drivers, but how many of them would be recognized on the street? Helio, perhaps, due in equal parts to his tax/dancing/Indy exposure. And maybe Dario, back home in Leiper’s Fork, Tenn. – at least before his shaggy new ‘do.

During the IRL’s eight seasons at Nashville Superspeedway I became a fan of the league. The drivers are personable and unfailingly accommodating, unlike the trend in NASCAR (no IRL winner ever smashed his trophy guitar in Victory Lane.)

The drivers are terrific; trouble is, there’s simply not enough of them.

Last Sunday’s field withered to 20 cars and half of them weren’t competitive.

If Danica departs, the IRL could become a one-pony show – that May deal in Indianapolis.

Right now the league consists of Danica and A Few Guys We Might Have Heard Of.

Lose Danica, lose the interest, lose the league.

As Ms. Patrick continues her flirtation with NASCAR and the IRL runs on hope and ethanol fumes, one thing becomes increasingly clear: the latter can’t afford to lose its Tattooed Lady. 

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 25 2009
10 Comments

10 Comments »

  • Cate Russo says:

    Whew! Steamy in here! Methinks you’re waiting by the mailbox for that yet-to-come issue of Playboy with Go Daddy Girl as the center-spread. lol Yes, the IRL is in trouble, but it’s been on life support for years. The fact that the series is still on its feet can’t be attributed singularly to DP. Admittedly, she has a celebrity-like following. So does Helio. And Dario, to a somewhat lesser degree. But HCN and DF WIN RACES.
    The majority of OW loyalists who continue to support IRL races do so because they love the sport and hope like the devil that someone with racing savvy and a truckload of money will jump in for a save when Tony George admits Mother Mary and his sisters took his checkbook away.
    I sat in the front row through the USAC-CART wars and the CART-IRL war (and some less-publicized more-personal racing wars) and continue to have faith that the IRL will spring back, with or without DP. But “Don’t Stop Believin” as I enjoy your writing! 16thandGeorgetown

  • OpenWheel says:

    I think this oversimplifies a situation with a whole host of moving parts. Danica is a draw (and puts a pretty face to things), but I hardly think the future of the series rests in her hands. In fact, I would argue that the fact that she’s generating more interest than “all the other competitors combined” is a bad thing. She’s dwarfing good racing with a bikini when she may have the legitimate talent to do it with track performance.

    With F1 in disarray, strong teams coming up through the Atlantic and other feeder series showing some strength, new chassis and engine coming in 2011, the strong potential for new title sponsership in the next year, etc, I think they have a shot at survival.

    God help open wheel racing if it’s success rests on a Go Daddy girl…

  • Don B. says:

    Danica’s win numbers and championship possibilities have nothing to do with it. Even if she had won twenty races and five championships by now, the problem would still be the same.

  • Paul Page is my hero says:

    This nicely sums up the problem with the IRL – they’ve rested their entire marketing strategy on the back of a driver who, to be dead honest, has never shown the ability to contend for a championship. Danica can find her way to a win or two, but she’s simply too inconsistent to be a real threat for the title.

    • Andy says:

      In case you haven’t noticed dude, she is sitting #5 in points at the moment and has had consistant top 5 finishes prior to a bit of bad luck in Iowa, and even that race, she led for 25 laps or so. Danica has proven that if she is given competitive equipment she can compete at the top level of the series. If she signs with TCG, she WILL win. AGR does not have winning speed lately, top 10 sure, but even TK hasn’t had the car to win races in a while.

      • Cate Russo says:

        In life, the winner gets the oyster, the one in second place gets the shell. No matter how you look at it, fifth is fifth.

        • Damon says:

          5th IS 5th, but ook at the four drivers ahead of her and tell me who they drive for, then get back to me.

      • John says:

        Fifth in a field of twenty cars is almost as impressive as one win in seventy+ starts. Highly overrated driver. Danica needs the IRL just as much as they need her. If she goes NASCAR or F1 she will embarrass herself.

        • Damon says:

          Considering Penske/Ganassi hold down the top 4 spots and have won ALL the races, what else do you want her to do?

          4 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s in 7 races and 5th in points and ahead of her three teams at AGR….you look at those numbers on paper and if she were a guy you wouldn’t be complaining about her lack of skill, you’d say, “I wish that driver was with Penske or Ganassi”.

          Shoot, Vitor Meira has over 90 starts in the IRL and has never won a race, yet nobody starts threads to say he’s overrated as a driver.

          • John says:

            No, I would not say that I would wish she was at Ganassi or Penske. I would put Kanaan into those seats before I would choose Danica. However if I was Roger or Chip, I’d probably choose Danica just for financial reasons. This brings me to your point about Vitor. Nobody states that he’s overrated because he’s never being hailed as the next great thing in racing, and grabbing attention every time a contract is about to expire. Personally I hope Danica does jump to NASCAR so she can show that she’s even more overrated than Christian Fittipaldi was.