• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, August 07, 2011

LIGHT-WEIGHTS

Here's a true test of your knowledge: Who are the following and what do they have in common?

Esteban Guerrieri, Josef Newgarden, Jorge Goncalvez, Gustavo Yacaman, Victor Carbone, David Ostella, Stefan Wilson, Anders Krohn, Victor Garcia, Duarte Ferreira.

Did you guess right? Winner gets a phone call from Randy Bernard to tell you IndyCar will be racing in Phoenix. Runner-up gets a call from Andrew Craig to tell you about CART's Hawaiian SuperPrix.

You give up? Don't worry -- very understandable.

Those are drivers in IndyCar's 2011 Firestone Indy Lights. Lots of household names and ticket sellers there! No disrespect intended to those guys -- all real racers are appreciated here -- but as a group they symbolize the problems that have plagued this tour since Tony George decided he needed a development/support series.

For as long as my motorsports memory has been active -- which is about five decades -- the need for sound driver development programs has been in the conversation. For a variety of reasons -- economics, rules, horsepower, mix of host tracks, quality of management and officiating -- some have been better than others. By "better" I mean "successful."

What the Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) has given us, by factual record, has been the worst. I'd go so far as to call it a flop, as defined by producing drivers who have gone on to win in higher leagues, and certainly as compared with other series.

Here are the champions and their subsequent histories: 2002 -- A.J. Foyt IV (out of racing). 2003 -- Mark Taylor (bombed out of brief stint with Panther). 2004 -- Thiago Medeiros (touted as a potential superstar, crashed in practice at California Speedway, finished 31st in one Indy 500 start, and eventually disappeared from the scene). 2005 -- Wade Cunningham (kicking around trying to make something happen). 2006 -- Jay Howard -- (ditto). 2007 -- Alex Lloyd (part-time IC competitor). 2008 -- Raphael Matos (trying to keep a full-time IC ride). 2009 -- JR Hildebrand (you know his story). 2010 -- J.K. Vernay (TBD).

A pretty thin record book, there.

The Bosch Super Vee series, which was contested from 1971-1990, really didn't have the engine horsepower needed to provide a full training ground for Indy. But taking a look at the list of some of its champions showed it served a most useful purpose:

Bertil Roos (highly respected racing school operator); Elliott Forbes-Robinson (sports car winner); Bob Lazier (CART rookie of the year); Geoff Brabham (IMSA champion, longtime CART driver, IROC race winner); Al Unser Jr. (double I500 winner); Michael Andretti (CART champion); Arie Luyendyk (two I500 wins); Didier Theys (sports car winner).

The most legendary of the training tours was, of course, Formula Atlantic. It had a great run from 1974-2009. No explanation is needed when listing some of its graduates: Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Tom Gloy, Johnny O'Connor, Richie Hearn, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Barron, Buddy Rice, Jon Fogarty, AJ Allmendinger, Simon Pagenaud and Matos.

CART's minor league, first known as the American Racing Series, was started by Pat Patrick and went from 1986-2001. Competitiors who went on to bigger and better things included: Theys, Jon Beekhuis, Mike Groff, Paul Tracy, Bryan Herta, Robbie Buhl, Greg Moore, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Cristiano da Matta, Scott Dixon and Townsend Bell.

Point made. Something for Bernard to ponder before his next news conference about the "Road to Indy."


FAST LINES: For the record, first place prize money when Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 was $613,000. Paul Menard's listed earnings for this year's running totaled $373,575. Yes, in the interest of fairness, PPG added $200,000 to the winner's check in the early years, and NASCAR has reduced purses 10 percent to give track operators relief in this economy. Still . . . Thanks to Mike Kerchner, http://www.nationalspeedsportnews.com/ keeps going, giving all of us a chance to read some of our NSSN favorites. I take a look a couple of times a week . . . Want max media coverage for a "major new category sponsorship" announcement? Don't do it at Friday, 6 p.m., at Mid-Ohio, as ALMS did . . . Formula One is on its traditional summer hiatus but I'll return to the post-race The Checkered Flag show with host Rick Benjamin in Sirius XM 94/208 after the Aug. 28 Grand Prix of Belgium at Spa.


Is the drag racing industry doing all it can to maximize the fan experience? Read about it in my August "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/18533-drags-dollars-a-sense-is-it-time-for-a-fan-experience-upgrade

[ more next Monday . . . ]