Sunday, May 18, 2003

Auto racing insider

IRL has much to gain from its diversity

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It was probably the first auto race you ever watched as a kid.

Back then, the Indianapolis 500 was "the race." If you watched only one auto race a year, it was the 500. That's probably still true today, but there is no doubt that Indy has lost some of its luster.

And now this setback: After today's final qualifying session, there may not be a full 33-car field for the May 25 race because there aren't enough rides available. That's sad, because the 500 hasn't raced with a short field since 1947. Falling short this year would increase the feeling that Indy racing is slipping further behind NASCAR as America's favorite racing style.

As if the racing public needed more evidence.

For the first time ever, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has had to resort to advertising to get the word out about the race that still is not a sellout. This comes in a year when Helio Castroneves is driving for his third consecutive win at Indy.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. Not that Castroneves and Penske teammate Gil de Ferran dominate their sport, but that the league's best drivers are Brazilians, barely recognizable in the United States.

No one is saying the Indy Racing League should be reserved for American drivers, but the marketing department in Indianapolis could take a page out of the Houston Rockets' manual and create some interest in foreign drivers.

The IRL will never match NASCAR's All-American image, which is all the more reason to celebrate its own diversity.

WINSTON MOVES: The Winston, NASCAR's annual all-star race held Saturday at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., may be moving to different venues on a rotating basis.

This would be a bold move on NASCAR's part, considering Charlotte is more or less the home of NASCAR. Though the move is unpopular with drivers who enjoy racing a non-points race in front of Charlotte fans, NASCAR can't ignore the building interest in its product around the nation.

Kentucky Speedway is still in consideration to receive a race, possibly as soon as next season, but it is unlikely to land The Winston. International Speedway Corporation, NASCAR's sister company that operates a third of its speedways, probably would rotate The Winston among its own tracks. But it will have to battle Speedway Motorsports president "Humpy" Wheeler, the general manager of Lowe's.

The fate of The Winston will come down to a grudge match between ISC and Wheeler.

In the end, ISC will win because it has NASCAR on its side.

WOMEN AND WHEELS: Kentucky Speedway made history last week when three female drivers started a race for the first time at the track.

That was certainly notable but not quite as impressive as what will take place June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Craftsman Truck Series driver Shawna Robinson will debut her all-female pit crew, a first in NASCAR history, at the O'Reilly 400.

The move is a marketing ploy on the part of TMS to take advantage of the buzz that will be created by Annika Sorenstam's PGA Tour appearance two weeks prior to the race in the Bank of America Colonial, which is held 25 miles from TMS.

Women will be able to buy $10 seats that normally go for $45.


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IRL has much to gain from its diversity

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