The Indy 500 would be
restored to its former glory, but more importantly the entire sport
While just about everyone
agrees there should be just one IndyCar series, how to merge the two
opposing sides has many people questioning whether it's even possible.
Most people are blaming Tony George, and I'm probably just as guilty of that as
anyone. But until Tony has a plan in front of him that
has a chance of working, my guess is he will continue to
say "no thanks."
The purpose of this article is to establish a
base set of ideas from which an agreement can be reached by both the
IRL and Champ Car. Wishful thinking?
Where everyone sees hate and distrust
created by the warring factions, I see opportunity. Opportunity to turn the
bitter negative rivalry into a positive. Every sport has rivalries and those
rivalries engage the fans and make for great conversation at the Monday water
Basis of the proposal
The Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series will be merged. The
new company will be called the IndyCar Grand Prix Series (or whatever name they
wish). The Hulman George family will give the new series the exclusive right
to use the name IndyCar for 99 years, or until the new company is
dissolved. Champ Car might prefer the Champ Car name but this is one area
where they will have to yield. "IndyCar" is a branded name, recognized
worldwide, and is clearly the better name to use.
The series will have two
divisions called the National Division and the International
Division and the two will compete in a regular season and playoff series of joint races
to crown an overall champion (see proposed schedule below).
Hurdles to overcome
Certainly there are some major issues to address like:
Who will own and who will rule
Marketing and PR
4. Race promotion
Equipment and Competition Rules
6. Schedule and
Points: How will a champion be crowned?
Swapping Teams: Code of Conduct
While I don't claim to have all the
answers in this highly charged topic, I do know that something must be done to get
the two sides of open wheel racing back together again. The split is
threatening the very existence of the sport and the families that make a living
from it. I'm not willing to just take "it can't be done" for an answer.
Tony George has the power to
put Indy Car racing back together again
Who will own and who will rule
Tony George wants to own and run it all. He has made that perfectly clear. He can't, and he does not have
to. In every negotiation there is give and take from both sides. This is one area where Tony is going to have to give in and accept a
partnership. Tony gets 50% and OWRS gets 50%. Better yet, Tony
George, Roger Penske, Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe would each own
20% each. Each will put up starter
money to start and fund the effort equally for a couple of years until
the new company becomes
One outsider would be brought
in on the board for a total of 5 votes to ensure there are no tied votes. Call it a checks and balances system
as no one person makes a wrong decision.
The problem with dictatorships
is that the dictator does not always make the correct decision.
With this proposal, at least three of five people have to agree, which
means there is a better chance all the issues have been examined
thoroughly before getting the go-ahead. The objective will be to
have a lean management structure that can make decisions decisively on
the majority of issues.
Kevin Kalkhoven has been
leading the Champ Car charge
Marketing and PR
The two divisions will be marketed and promoted by the same group of
individuals with no division getting preference over the other.
Existing IRL and Champ Car marketing and PR staff will be merged and report to the same
Why a joint effort?
Because it is important that both divisions get equal treatment and the
relationship doesn't deteriorate into an us vs. them war again.
Decisions on marketing and PR should be made to the benefit of both
divisions. Remember, the goal here is to grow the entire
organization and create a "friendly" rivalry between the two divisions
much like we see in all stick-and-ball sports, not a rivalry whereby one
side tries to put the other side out of business (as is the case now).
One key to a joint approach is the
ability to develop and grow the branding and the theme of the product consistently
in all markets, both domestically and abroad. But the overriding strategy
will be to make the drivers the stars. NASCAR's success has been its ability
to make heroes out of its athletes.
Adequate sponsorship for both the IRL and Champ Car is an issue right now and
part of the problem is the war. Some sponsors view the current open wheel
environment whereby the competing sides are trying to destroy the other as bad
for business. Why get involved in a bee's nest when they can waltz over to
NASCAR and know there's no war going on. By becoming one company that barrier
Having 30 races as presented below
means that there's an IndyCar race just about every week during the season, much
like NASCAR. That continuity helps to keep fans interested knowing they will
have a race to watch every Sunday. It also makes negotiating a TV contract better
because you are dealing with volume and diversity. The intrigue caused by
the battle between the two divisions makes for good TV. Eventually TV
ratings will begin to increase and TV ratings are directly proportional to
sponsorship dollars for the teams and the series.
The marketing staff of the new series
will assist all the teams and the race promoters in finding sponsorship.
Right now it's a tough sell because of NASCAR's popularity, but once the war is
over companies will begin to take a closer look at open wheel racing again,
especially when the TV ratings begin to rise and they see a cooperative effort
being made by all constituents.
The brunt of race promotion falls on the shoulders of the promoter of each
individual race in the local or regional market. However, the sanctioning
body must be responsible for nationwide and, in this case worldwide,
promotion of their series and its drivers.
While the marketing staff of the new
series would be responsible for nationwide and overseas promotion of the brand and
playing up the rivalry between the two divisions, they would also commit to each
race promoter a minimum level of manpower and advertising dollars for the local
CART was running laps
around the competition until the split set the sport back to the Stone
Ages. It's time to restore the sport back to its former glory
Equipment and Competition
All new cars designed to run on ovals, street and road courses will be used starting in 2007. The chassis will be
developed jointly by the IRL and Champ Car staff. The new car will be 100 pounds
lighter than the existing cars that are simply too heavy and look clumsy and
slow in a street race environment.
Engines will either be 1.8L
turbocharged V8's running on methanol or 3.0L V10's running on ethanol.
An RPM limit in the neighborhood of 13,000 will be the goal, subject to
debate. Great emphasis will be made on making the engines sound great. The gearbox will be the existing Champ Car gearbox,
modified to mate to the new engines.
This gearbox has proven to be
versatile and it works well on all types of circuits. Wheels and
tires will be changed to Formula One size, i.e. 13" wheels but slick
tires will be used instead of grooved. I have made the argument on
numerous occasions why the higher, more forgiving sidewalls of an F1 tire make for
a better show for the fans by allowing the driver to get the tail out and
not have it break away without warning. Trivial? The devils in the
The goal of the new rules
will be to keep team costs in the neighborhood of $8 to $10 million
(max) per year for a 2-car team.
Engine manufacturers will be
required to supply an equal number of cars in both divisions (minimum of
two cars in each division their first year, minimum of four cars in each
division in subsequent years). Here is the key difference from the past - To prevent the teams from becoming beholden
to the engine manufacturers, manufacturers will only be allowed to
contribute up to $1 million to each car per season, be that in the way
of engine subsidies, personnel hires, etc. This will be carefully
monitored and stiff penalties will be imposed, including exclusion from
collecting points the remaining races of the season if caught exceeding
If a manufacturer wants to
participate over and above that amount they can do so in the way of race
sponsorship, track signage, TV ads, etc. - all things which can help the
series grow while getting the message out about their products.
Schedule and Points
The schedule presented below
is hypothetical. While the international division has many
international venues, they also have some USA, Canada and Mexico venues.
In order for teams to sell sponsorship to foreign companies, they must
offer them adequate exposure in the USA market, the largest consumer
market in the world. That's where a strong USA TV contract will be
Due to sponsorship demands,
some teams from one division may want to also participate in races in
another division. However, while they can compete for the race win
and prize money, they will not collect points for non-division races.
In addition to the joint races shown in yellow below, a team may participate in up to three non-division events per year.
Races will be held on
alternating weekends to avoid TV conflicts. With the schedule
shown below there will be an "IndyCar" race on TV almost every weekend,
just like NASCAR. This will keep the series and its drivers in the
news. The NY Yankees baseball team doesn't play every day, but every day
there is a baseball game being played somewhere.
Three oval tracks and three
road course/street course tracks were chosen for the six "joint" races
and some consideration was given to whether the paddock and pits can accommodate
the larger field of the joint races.
||Homestead Miami, Florida
||St. Petersburg, Florida
First Joint Race: Long Beach,
California (Double Points)
2nd Joint Race: Indy 500 (Double Points)
||Fort Worth, Texas
3rd Joint Race: St. Jovite, Canada (Double
||Kansas City, Mo.
4th Joint Race: Chicagoland, IL (Double
||San Jose, California
||Watkins Glen, NY
5th Joint Race:
Mexico City, Mexico (Double Points)
6th Joint Race:
Las Vegas, Nevada (Double Points)
Points will be awarded using either the existing IRL or
existing Champ Car points system for regular season races. For the
"joint" races, only the fastest 32 cars (33 for Indy) will qualify.
Some teams will go home early, but these are special races and, as they
say, only the strong survive, so the fight to get into the field will be
fierce and exciting. The joint races will pay double points.
Each division will crown a division champion based on
points collected in the regular season races. Then an overall
champion will be crowned using a combination of points collected in the
regular season races plus the double points collected in the
joint races. As with all sports, the "overall" champion will
garner the most publicity and accolades.
There will also be points awarded to team championships,
Swapping Teams: Code of Conduct
Similar to stick-and-ball sports, a driver will have a
contract with a team. Once that contract expires, the driver can
renegotiate with the same team for a contract extension, or become a free
agent. Drivers are free to sign a contract with a team in either
division once they become a free-agent.
In the event that a driver wants to also drive for a team
in the other division, assuming their primary team OK's it (doubtful due
to risk of injury), that driver can sign to drive up to three races in the
other division, but they won't collect points toward the championship.
The plan as presented above is a draft. There would
be many other details to iron out before 2007, the first year of the
merger. I have attempted to be as fair and equitable so as not to
favor the IRL or Champ Car and I feel both sides have a lot to gain by the merger
- I think that's obvious.
We all agree that one series would be best. I think
having two divisions with a little competition will give the sport far
more publicity, yet allow everyone to work together toward growth and
prosperity because they are governed by a single management team.
I present this for consideration to Tony George and OWRS.
And guys, "can't" isn't in my vocabulary and it shouldn't be in yours. The future
of your sport and the livelihood of many depends on your willingness to lay down
your guns and reach an amicable agreement.
The author can be contacted at
to discuss this article