October 24, 1995
The IRL and the '500' Future
To The Editor
by Anton Hulman George / Indianapolis Motor Speedway President
It is my hope to provide an understanding of the purpose and motivation behind the formation of the Indy Racing League. There is much controversy in this matter, expressed as anxiety and even animosity by certain members of the Indy racing community, several fans, and more than one journalist.
In time, I hope the current wounds are healed and that these disagreements ultimately provide for clearer and stronger relationships throughout our sport. Later, I'll get into specific reasons why I believe so strongly in the formation of this league.
Of immediate concern, though, is the unsettling rhetoric of threats, boycotts and an alternate race on May 26 as leveled by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) against both the Indianapolis 500 and the IRL. Other than to once again reiterate our almost daily, sincere invitation to the racing community that we consider all racers friends and that IRL events and the "500" are open to any legitimate team with a legal car and qualified driver, I cannot say how this will all turn out.
What I can say, very sincerely, is that any and all teams that have competed in past "500s," many of them CART franchisees, are 100 percent welcome to enter and compete in any of our IRL events. New entrants are welcome too. That said, I'm going to specifically address just a single, highly inaccurate word that has recently surfaced as CART's focal buzzword to describe its self-imposed predicament regarding the "500." The word is "lockout."
Let's make this clear: There is no lockout. What I believe to be the case is that CART, following an effort to eliminate the IRL and gain control of the Indianapolis 500, is in the uncomfortable position of having created deliberate and unnecessary conflicts from which it will not extricate itself.
Those conflicts surfaced with CART's announcements of technical specifications for its 1996 cars and of its 1996 schedule, both of which occurred well after the corresponding IRL information had been made public and put in place for our inaugural season.
Probably 90 percent or more of the discussion (and cussing) has been aimed at the IRL's 75 percent-of-the-field qualifying incentive, the one that conditionally guarantees 25 spots in the Indianapolis 500 lineup to IRL competitors. Although we have not changed any of the four-day, speed-seeded qualifying format for the "500" with the fastest first-day qualifier, whoever it is, still on the pole, let me explain where the new qualifying criteria -- which only affects who gets bumped -- came from.
The IRL qualifying incentives, bridging across different events, provide a new and interesting dimension to how starting fields are established because they provide a hard, venue-to-venue continuity. There is a positive side in terms of publicity and race-to-race interdependency to build the league's identity. But the down side is that if the "500" were to be a true league member, then the rule would have to apply to the 33-car Indy field as well. We were on the fence leaning away from that one until the middle of June.
That was when CART announced its 1996 schedule. The components of our modest, five-race IRL schedule had been announced in January, April and late May, and each announcement was accompanied by an IRL promise not to create conflict with what we understood would be CART's schedule. We obviously hoped they would enter our races.
On June 10, CART announced its 15-race 1996 schedule. Ultimately, four of its dates appeared to us to have been put deliberately in conflict with three important IRL dates: CART's Brazil and Australia races were placed one week before and one week after the IRL's announced Phoenix date of March 24, 1996; CART's Nazareth race was listed on April 28 against USAC's important Indy Rookie Orientation Program; and inexplicably, CART chose to schedule Elkhart Lake directly opposite the IRL's Aug. 18 New Hampshire race.
Travel logistics virtually eliminate the possibility of any team running Brazil, Phoenix and Australia on consecutive weekends. While "ROP" (as USAC's rookie program is called) is not a highly publicized event, it is nonetheless well known in racing circles that it occurs a week before opening day at Indianapolis, when the final preparations to the race track have been completed. All CART could say about its Elkhart Lake date was that it had always raced on that date (it hasn't) and besides, CART stated, it hadn't made any promises that it wouldn't conflict.
What do you do if you are in our shoes? CART had obviously made a perfectly legal, free-market competition move to prevent its teams from participating in the opportunities presented by the IRL. At that point it became incumbent on us to respond in kind, and we did it with a carrot instead of a stick.
On July 3, we announced $12 million in prize money for the five-race series, and qualifying criteria weighted toward teams that participate in IRL events. In August, we weighted our season championship points system very heavily toward consistent IRL participation. Plus we already had an agreement in place with ABC Sports for live television coverage of all five IRL races.
These are strong, attractive incentives for open participation that in no way imply a lockout. Then as now, the IRL is designed for open inclusion of any and all competitors. It is unfortunate CART is forcing its members to choose.
Then there is the equipment question. On Oct. 11, a CART car owner was quoted in The Star sports section about the necessity for the IRL to adopt '96 CART equipment rules or else CART will be unable to compete in next year's Indianapolis 500. That is a true statement, sort of. The problem resulted from CART's decision last May to institute sweeping changes in its own '96 chassis specifications that it knew when it made them would effectively eliminate its cars from competing in the 1996 "500." That was CART's decision, not ours, and I firmly believe the decision was motivated by CART's desire to stifle the development of the IRL by creating the burden on its members of redundant, expensive equipment.
It was, in my view, another free-market competition decision. I respect CART's right to compete against the IRL, although it was certainly not our original intent to compete against them. We wanted to coexist and not force anyone to choose sides. That is why in early March the IRL rescinded its own proposed sweeping changes in both chassis and engine specifications.
At that time, CART told us they felt the IRL's proposed technical changes -- which we had announced in 1994 -- would create hardship because they were too late for 1996 production and too expensive for teams because all new equipment would be required. We did not entirely agree with those assessments, but in the interest of removing obstacles to agreement, the IRL announced March 10 that for 1996 all applicable 1995 USAC and CART specifications would be observed. It was purely a move of appeasement on our part.
Imagine our surprise when two months later, in mid-May, CART adopted changes in chassis specifications that were very close to what the IRL had rescinded in the interest of keeping peace in the family. While technical and safety improvements are the backbone of auto racing, it was obvious to me that CART's chassis change was motivated less by performance than by its political desire to prevent the IRL from conducting races in 1996. I was very disappointed by this, but it was not of our doing and we will stick to the commitments we made for 1996 rules.
Chassis incompatibility and schedule conflicts: CART created both these problems after the IRL was on record as sincerely having tried to avoid them. The purpose of the IRL is to provide growth, stability and opportunity for open-wheel, oval track racing. That mission is certainly not intended to harm or control CART.
In fact, it has nothing to do with CART. We simply do not want the Indianapolis 500 to be controlled by an outside group that does not have as its most important goal the future of Indianapolis type oval track racing. Not to mention a group that is based out of state and is far removed from the significance of the "500" in this community.
It is often said that I am motivated by power and greed in forming the IRL. It certainly is not greed, because this is a very intense financial commitment for us to build a race track in Florida and establish proper league staffing and resources. The monetary payback, if there is any, will be over the long haul. On the subject of power, my desire is not now and never has been control of CART, IndyCar or the entire series of whatever cars run in the Indianapolis 500. The payback on that side is simply a peace of mind that comes from maintaining the sovereignty of this wonderful event.
Far from wanting to run the sport, I'd love to see even the IRL develop an autonomy. There is much I would like to do in my life, but I'll be unable to enjoy any of it if the "500" is not secure.
That's why the Indy Racing League was formed. I felt the long-term protection of the "500" depended on a solid series of top level open-wheel, oval track races. To that end, this league was created because CART provided no long-term guarantees to the "500" or to oval track racing. Nor has CART as an organization exhibited long-term stability, with four different board voting structures and four different chief executives just in the short five years I've been president of the Speedway.
The Indianapolis 500 will not be controlled by CART. They are welcome to join us as competitors, but not to impose their will or their governing structure on the Speedway.
Our timing in all of this was pretty good. The threat I feared might someday materialize -- a CART sanction in a power move against the Speedway -- is evidently upon us. Although you can argue that we brought it on ourselves this time, I am convinced it would have happened over some other issue at some other time. This time, though, we were in the middle of exercising some very important American ideals -- those of free competition, open markets and entrepreneurship. We are in a position of strength, and we are steadfastly in a position to defend the future of the "500" with the Indy Racing League.
It breaks my heart when I see CART drivers quoted as saying the "500" is "just another race," and I can't count the number of CART owners who have stated on various occasions that they would prefer to emasculate the month of May, and instead re-make the greatest automobile race meeting in the world into a single-weekend event. I would be ashamed if we let that happen here. It would be an incalculable loss for both the world of racing and the local community.
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