In 1995 AD, the CART IndyCar World Series was the most popular form of motorsports in the United States and was challenging FIA Formula One on the world stage. One year later a new product called the Indy Racing League took the ICWS's premier event and added it to their own series. Over the next decade both products lost viewers and eventually merged in a victory for the IRL that was pyrrhic at best. Today, angry people from across the Internet constantly look for someone to blame for this kerfuffle. I intend to solve the lingering mystery: who killed the Indy Car?
History has a lot of stories about small leagues forming against a more popular establishment. The American League challenged the National League but the two were able to function for 100 years before they fully merged into Major League Baseball. The American Football League challenged the National Football League and eventually merged with its rival. This inspired the creation of the World Hockey Association and American Basketball Association; however, these leagues were created for the purpose of forcing a merger with the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association, respectively.
"The great thing about living in the United States is that it allows you freedom of choice. If you become bored with something because it has become old, tired, and predictable; you can choose something else. And the United States Football League is something else."
-Harry Usher, USFL executive and commissioner
I guess they're not all winners. The IRL began with a similar, albeit less charismatic, mandate.
"Well I don?t know that it? you know? will actually? be new. In that you know it'll be totally different from what we have today, but I think uh obviously I have some strong feelings that I would like one last chance at trying to impress upon umm the CART organization. See if we can't, you know, go forward together. Umm? But in the event that's not possible, then you know maybe an entirely new series uh with more of an American flavor would be the result."
-Tony George, IRL founder and Indianapolis Motor Speedway executive
There is a very fine difference between the USFL and IRL; the USFL did not take teams and veteran players from the NFL, while some CART teams did defect to the new series. Eventually foreign drivers and CART teams came to dominate the IRL. CART died a slow painful death at the hand of the IRL, but this is not about who killed the American Championship Car.
Let?s evaluate the suspects of the crime.
Tony George is guilty. I'll admit that right now! CART was a successful (though stagnant) product in 1995 that was stealing veteran talent from Formula One. Tony George comes along and suddenly needs to turn the racing world on its head because he wants a bigger trust fund than the one Indianapolis Motor Speedway has provided him. This is a common story that happens to a lot of family businesses; kids inherit the business and run it into the ground.
Formula One is not guilty. Despite having an obvious motive, returning to the scene of the crime to hold the United States Grand Prix is not the sort of thing a killer does. While some conspiracy theorists would like to speculate that Bernie Ecclestone subsidized the young IRL, there should be some hard evidence that such an event happened. Idle speculation does not eliminate reasonable doubt.
CART is guilty. At the risk of blaming the victim, Tony George's demands were not beyond reason. While the CART IndyCar World Series did not exist to support Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it is still important to keep your most powerful track owner happy.
Team owners are guilty. From 1980 to 1995, the number of non-American drivers in the Indy 500 increased 1,900%! I am all in favor of having the best drivers regardless of country, but some xenophobes will only support a driver from their country. As I established sports as an entertainment in last month?s entries, the team owners were unable or unwilling to hire drivers that could entertain xenophobes.
NASCAR is not guilty. Despite what the conspiracy theorists say, there is no hard evidence that NASCAR directly subsidized the IRL. We can say that ISC, NASCAR's puppet, worked with the IRL to organize races, but that makes ISC the murder weapon, not the murderer.
Fans are guilty. If one series would have failed in 1997, from a lack of support, then we would all kiss and make up in 1998. The war lasted 12 years, which is 2 years longer than both World Wars combined. Hurtful things were said and people got bitter. So let's get over the blame and try fixing this thing!
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