July 18, 2012
Editor's Note: Peter will return next week with another installment of "Fumes." Please note that Peter Brock weighed-in with some additional comments (below) about the Shelby vs. Ferrari War. - WG
When it comes to politics and racing, "for the good of the sport" often doesn't enter into it.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 7/9, 10:30 a.m.) Detroit. It is no startling revelation that racing is as much politics as anything else, and it's also no secret that the political aspect of racing is contradictory to the oftentimes fleeting concept of being "for the good of the sport." Political agendas in racing are usually contrary to reality, common sense, doing what's right and what's needed, the prevailing economic winds and any number of rational reasons. Politics has been part of racing since Day One and we've seen it rear its ugly head often throughout racing history.
One of the most glaring episodes was when Enzo Ferrari, sensing that his days as the dominant entrant of winning sports cars in international GT racing were coming to a close - thanks to the mad geniuses at Shelby American - attempted to pull a fast one in 1964. Peter Brock, famed designer of the Cobra Daytona Coupe, recounted the story in Car and Driver more than a decade ago: "He negotiated an operatic impasse with the FIA over the issue of homologating his 250LM prototype racers into the GT class. The FIA, of course, refused - there was no basis in the rules for the car to qualify as a production GT car. Informed of that, Ferrari refused to race at Monza. In the Italian press, he wailed of being 'discriminated against' by the FIA's competition board and now he 'had no chance of winning.' When he quit, the Auto Club d'Italia, backers of the Monza event, sensed financial disaster and canceled the race." And thus Ferrari won the championship that year. (But as we well know, 1965 was a different story as Shelby American kicked ass and delivered the first and only sports car world championship in history by an American racing organization.)
Again that's just one episode. Cars and technologies have been banned, like the turbine cars at Indianapolis, Jim Hall's Chaparral 2J "sucker" car, Brabham's "fan" car in F1, Smokey Yunick's almost entire body of work, etc., etc., etc. Entire racing series have even been created - or killed - over politics. The Trans-Am Series evolved into a political battle ground for the Detroit-based automakers, and its heyday it happened to be spectacular. The Indy car debacle created out of the team owners' frustration with Tony George's handling of the Indianapolis 500 and his desire to control the sport and take it in a direction that the owners didn't want any part of. George's solution was of course the formation of the IRL. We all know how that turned out.
There's a living and breathing example of it in recent times as well. In order to counteract Don Panoz and his American Le Mans Series and to keep Panoz from controlling all of American major league sports car racing, the France family used their control of the Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 24 Hour race to fabricate their own series - Grand-Am - so we have the onerous situation of having two sports car series fighting each other in an economic environment that can barely support one.
I could go on and on about political incidents, episodes and decisions that have affected racing, because it has been a part of the sport and it will always be a part of the sport. We even have a red-hot current example unfolding as you read this.
Randy Bernard, the man who I happen to think has done a superb job running IndyCar against at times impossible odds, is in the midst of a political quagmire when it comes to the series' 2013 schedule. Drivers, most team owners and a large - and vocal - group of IndyCar fans want the series to return to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Now some would argue that America's finest road racing facility doesn't necessarily have a historical connection to IndyCar, but the fact of the matter is that "America's National Park of Speed" was a pivotal venue for the once-great F5000 series. And the road racing component of IndyCar racing has a direct link to that fabulous era of American road racing history.
Bernard's dilemma? One of the sport's all-time greats, Michael Andretti - the man who happens to hold the track record at Road America with a 1:40 flat - has gotten serious about promoting races in an expansion of his Andretti Autosport enterprise. He already promotes two events, the upcoming Baltimore IndyCar/ALMS weekend in the fall, and of course, The Milwaukee Mile. In fact Andretti has been very upfront about lobbying Bernard on The Milwaukee Mile's behalf, even if it means keeping Road America off of the IndyCar schedule.
In an interview with Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star last weekend in Toronto, Bernard confirmed that Road America would not only not be on the 2013 schedule, but from the sounds of it the track will be absent from the schedule indefinitely. Why? This is what Bernard had to say to Cavin on the subject: “I gave a commitment to Michael Andretti and his team that what we need to do is build the Milwaukee Mile first before we look at (Road America),” he said. “We could have gone there this year to fill the (schedule) void and Michael was gracious enough to (permit it), but it’s very important for us to stick to our overall plan.”
So, in case you need a translation, Andretti is forcing Bernard to put Andretti's interest in The Milwaukee Mile ahead of what would be good for the overall health of the IndyCar series, because according to Michael, having another race in Wisconsin at Road America would be counterproductive to Andretti's business interests. (Bernard had considered adding Road America to the 2012 IndyCar schedule after the China race was canceled, which is how the subject came up in the first place.)
What's wrong with this picture? A lot, frankly.
IndyCar is staying away from what should be one of its cornerstone venues because protecting one of its key player's business interests is deemed as being more politically expedient. And it stinks. Especially when most all of its participants - and fans - wholeheartedly agree that Road America needs to be on the schedule.
Why isn't an accommodation being made that could protect the fragility of The Milwaukee Mile and add Road America to the IndyCar schedule? That would entail scheduling IndyCar later on the Road America calendar, but perhaps the ALMS could be persuaded to move its August date back as well so a IndyCar/ALMS super road racing weekend could be created. Instead we're left with the status quo in an IndyCar schedule that is in desperate need of some serious juice.
The Bottom Line in this discussion is that political interests are being put ahead of what would be good for the overall health of the sport.
And thus it was ever so.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: I received an email note from Peter Brock today (7/15) in a follow-up to my column (above). He had more to add about the infamous Ferrari vs. Shelby dust-up: "Loved it that you brought up the Enzo deal with the Auto Club d’ Italia to 'win' the World Championship for GTs in ’64. Yes, the race was 'cancelled' but only the 'official' FIA GT portion of the race! The public was never made aware of the conspiracy so the club didn’t lose a lire. Enzo’s 'deal' with the club was that he’d bring his banned 250 LM and 275 LMs to race so his adoring public could see the banned racers in a 'special' Italian GT Championship event. There was never any public mention that the Daytona Coupes wouldn’t be there. We had four coupes entered and would have annihilated the Ferrari GTOs and easily won the Championship. Of course Enzo 'retired' from GT competition in ’65 leaving his 250 GTO privateers to twist in the wind. Our Daytonas, in the hands of the UK’s Alan Mann, won easily." Thanks to Peter for the rest of the story. - PMD
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives and fordimages.com)
Michael Andretti (shown here in 1998) was one of America's all-time greats. Andretti won 42 races in 317 starts in Indy-type cars and recorded 32 pole positions. He also was the CART IndyCar World Series Champion in 1991. Michael now runs the very successful Andretti Autosport IndyCar team and is becoming heavily involved in the promotion of IndyCar races.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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