Rumoured for days, it seems that, for once, those rumors are true.
Last Friday, Tony George, IMS & the Champ Car principles (Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe) put out a press release saying that as of the 2008 season, there will be a single North American open wheel racing series.
This is, with out a doubt, very good news for race fans in the US (as well as Canada, given both series popularity and participation amongst Canadians). A unified series, with all open wheel talent focused on one goal, as well as all that talent running in The Indy 500 makes for a better package for everyone concerned: teams, drivers, track owners, fans, and, most importantly, sponsors.
With an undiluted focus, the sponsor money will now flow more freely.
With a freer flow of money, more attention will be focused on the now single series, with more cars, trying for grid positions … meaning that for each race, and for The 500 particularly, qualifying will become harder and harder to do.
Even during the lowest points of the split, The Indy 500 would pull crowds in the 300,000 range for race day. Compare that to this year’s Daytona 500, where attendance was officially 125,000.
Pre-split, 125,000 would have been an abysmally low figure for pole day qualifying at Indy, and race day totals would usually approach half a million people.
Indy is, and will continue to be, the biggest single race in the world.
I remember talking with a racing friend about one or two years into the split. As usual, the conversation was which faction was going to win, was going to prevail. I answered thus:
“Tony George and The IRL will. I know, he’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, but he’s got one thing going for him that the Champ Car guys don’t – hell nobody’s got got what he’s got: The Indy 500. Like it or not, The 500 is a big deal. Everyone knows what The Indy 500 is, and that’s a level of marketing you can’t buy.”
“Look,” I said, “when two guys are fighting over a knife, they guy holding the handle usually wins. And the Indy 500 is the handle.”
Turns out I was right … let’s see where this takes us.