Sunday, July 10, 2005

MOLSON INDY: 20TH ANNIVERSARY

Well, as you know I went to the Molson Indy a couple of days ago and I must say that the event was great. It always is a great event and a big boost to Toronto. In fact the event is better than the race. They could simply skip the race and no one would notice in this town, because they're too drunk to notice.

What struck me was the fact that the event seemed to have more to do with beer and beauty contests, and partying and drinking than it had to do with auto racing and sports in general. It seemed like every company in town was handing out stuff at the race, free samples of this and that. Someone gave me a free sample of Reactine allergy medication. You get the idea. There were big supersized inflated beer cans all over the place promoting Molson, and lots of beer gardens everywhere. I don't think anyone there cared about the race cars. Really.

I watched the actual race on TV today and boy, this race was filled with accidents; Paul Tracy's car got into an accident and then ran out of gas, and a few other cars collided into tiny pieces. The race ended under caution- way to go, eh, ChampCar?! In NASCAR they don't end races under caution, they sprint to the finish as often as they can. There's some rule where they have to try and run the final three laps under the full green, so the fans go home happy, guaranteed.

So it ended up being a comedy of errors and Justin Wilson (who???!!) ended up winning the race. Who cares about him.

I can tell you this, the CART-IRL Split has ruined this race. And the split continues: apparently merger talks are off again. This split is going to continue until the day the ChampCar World Series goes right out of business.

It's really sad because for years the CART series had all the best Indy drivers under one roof. And the Indy 500 was part of the series and counted in the points standings. So the same cars that raced at Indianapolis raced in Toronto at the Molson Indy.

Then the big split happened in the mid-90s and everybody bolted the Indianapolis 500. While a bunch of no-name teams and assorted bums were racing in the IRL at the Indy 500 in the immediate aftermath of the split with Tony George, pretty much all of the teams that made the Indy 500 so great went with CART. It was as if the great Indianapolis 500 race teams were all forced into exile. David Letterman deserted his hometown to stick with CART. CART had the Andrettis, Team Green, Team Rahal, Target-Chip Ganassi, Penske, Newman-Haas, and Player's-Forsythe and all of them were still competing at the Molson Indy.

But the IRL has done a great job luring most of these teams back the last couple of years. Now only the last two teams remain in ChampCar, and one of them (Newman-Haas) actually put its cars and drivers (including the reigning ChampCar champion Sebastien Bourdais) into competition at the IRL's Indy 500 this year. So it's ChampCar that has the lock on the no-names and bums and it's the Molson Indy that is suffering through the tough times now. Only a few die-hard drivers like Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Tagliani have hung in with the ChampCar circuit. Even Patrick Carpentier has bolted to the IRL. Sad.

I've even heard some rumors that Paul Tracy might quit too, after this season, to do some other series. If he leaves, the Molson Indy is FINISHED, because he's the only star attraction left. He was the only guy people in the media cared about around here, because there IS no one else. Everyone's left for the IRL.

If the teams that left the Molson Indy for the IRL had all stayed, Danica Patrick would have been right here in Toronto. Imagine what a sensation that would have been. Instead of lining up to meet Miss Molson Indy contestants, guys would have been lining up for her autograph. Anyway, she wasn't here.

And Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti weren't here, either, celebrating the 20th anniversary of an event they were a big part of building and making great. Andretti won seven times here and just won the Indy 500 as an owner for the first time. Too bad they aren't here, but that's life these days, I guess. I know that I'm sort of lamenting the state of the Molson Indy race but this is the truth and someone in Toronto has to say it. The event is still great but the race isn't.

I've noticed the fans are really bitter, blaming Tony George for the mess and muttering epithets about him. In fact you see a lot of people defending the ChampCar series and racers in spite of the problems, and trashing the IRL. I guess there's a lot of loyalty because so many Canadians have been involved in ChampCar over the years and have done so well. A lot of the race fans here hate Tony George and they hate the IRL for what they've done to destroy open-wheel racing in North America. Certainly the split has messed the sport right up. The IRL may be in much better shape than ChampCar these days but it's being left in the dust by NASCAR, thanks to the infamous split. The only race on the IRL circuit that anyone cares about is Indianapolis. ChampCar, on the other hand, still has more good venues than the IRL but the IRL has been moving in to traditional CART territory in Miami, Milwaukee, Michigan, and elsewhere, and really, nobody cares about this series anymore outside of Canada. Who cares about these bums!? Even in Canada they really only care about the Canadian drivers these days. Everyone's just waiting for the day NASCAR comes to Canada so that they can go support that. That's the mood up here these days. Some even say they should just have the NASCAR cars race in the streets and make the Molson Indy some sort of NASCAR event, but I think that's no way to go. Personally I think the promoters of the Molson Indy are ultimately better off simply bolting the ChampCar series for the IRL given the current state of things, because most of the real history of the Toronto race is now part of the IRL series. And you'd still be able to call it the "Indy"! But that's only my opinion and I don't think it's likely to happen very soon.

Next week the ChampCar circuit goes to Edmonton for the first time and I think that race ought to be a big success. An event loaded with beer and girls is bound to do well in Edmonton. Plus, it's still a major sporting event and Edmonton is a sports-minded town. But I really wish everyone in open-wheel racing would simply figure out some sort of merger and get it over with already, for the good of the sport.

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