What's In a Name?

Posted by Iannucci | 4/26/2006 | 1 comments »
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I was engaging in a discussion on the ESPN Message board with a Vulture about IRL drivers being in over their heads. I mentioned that I thought Scott Brayton – who at the time of the IRL/CART split was considered one of the top Open Wheel drivers to participate in the new series – was no less qualified because he dies on the track. The Vulture responded that Brayton was also unqualified.

75 starts and the best he could manage was one podium (3rd), a 5th and a couple of 6ths. 75 starts and he wrecked 11 times, including the race immediately before Indy in 1996. By that time he was lucky to have finally gotten a full time ride again after sitting out two years. Like most of the field fillers at Indy for most of recent history, he was way over his head.
Here is the where part I pull out the quote about statistics and damn lies. As anyone who was watching open-wheel racing in the mid-90s knows, Brayton was a very good driver who had a very bad engine. Here’s a nice summary from Wikipedia:

During the mid-1980s, Brayton helped introduce the powerful (but unreliable) Buick stock-block V-6 to Indianapolis. In 1985, he qualified 2nd but finished 30th when the engine expired. He would not finish the race again until 1989, when he scored his best finish at the Speedway, 6th place but seven laps down. He would equal this finishing position in 1993, driving a Lola-Cosworth.

When Buick pulled out of IndyCar racing in 1993, John Menard continued developing the engine under the Menard V-6 name. Brayton, now without a regular ride in the IndyCar series, joined the Indy-only team in 1994. Their belief in the powerplant paid off when Brayton won his first pole position in 1995, at an average speed of 231.604 mph. Again, persistent problems with the Menard engine relegated him to 17th place at the finish.

In 1996, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George established the Indy Racing League, and the Menard team signed up to compete in their first full season of IndyCar racing. Because the established "stars" of open-wheel racing competed in the rival CART series, Brayton (and rookie teammate, Tony Stewart) were considered legitimate contenders for the IRL title. After a bad start to the season, Brayton asserted his competitiveness by winning his second Indy pole after a dramatic qualifying session in which he withdrew an already-qualified car to get a second chance at taking the top spot.
It is also noted that Brayton's fatal accident was the result of tire failure during a practice run, which does nothing to support the argument that he was “in over his head.”

I decided to look up some statistics on accident percentages on current drivers and compare them with Brayton’s career. While the drivers atop today’s standings all had lower percentages, there were several who were not only worse but A LOT WORSE that Brayon’s 14.7%. Check this out:

Tomas Enge - 18 starts, 7 accidents (38.9%)
Tomas Schekter - 64 starts, 21 accidents (32.8%)
Ed Carpenter - 38 starts, 12 accidents (31.6%)
Eddie Cheever Jr - 72 starts, 14 accidents (19.4%)
Scott Sharp - 118 starts, 20 accidents (16.9%)
Scott Dixon - 52 starts, 8 accidents (15.4%)
Scott Brayton - 75 starts, 11 accidents (14.7%)
Buddy Rice - 53 starts, 7 accidents (13.2%)
Buddy Lazier - 93 starts, 11 accidents (11.8%)

Anybody else notice anything strange about this? I mean, look at the first names of the drivers. It’s just really weird how the names trend in terms of percentages. Regardless, it looks like Brayton compared favorably to two other Scotts who have proven they belong in the IRL.

Do you think the other drivers would noticeably stay away from the Vision and Cheever teams (the top 4!) if they knew these percentages? No wonder these teams don’t have sponsors.

One last item: Sure it’s a small sample size, but let’s note the guy who started the discussion.

Paul Dana - 3 starts, 0 accidents (0.00%)

Iif you’re going to make an argument about unsafe drivers then at least use the drivers who are actually unsafe as an example. Otherwise please stop the Vulture madness, and just enjoy the racing.


  1. wizard32 // May 01, 2008 3:35 PM  

    I was both a personal friend and professional colleague of Scott Brayton. Additionally, I spent nearly 20 years actively participating in motorsports at several levels.

    I can tell you that, without equivocation, Scott Brayton was one of the most talented drivers in the series. You simply don't get to the top rung of any racing series without talent, guts, and determination. Scott had all three in considerable quantities.

    Perhaps the single biggest barrier to Scott's "success" (if you define it as winning races) was his loyalty to an underfunded effort. The chemistry between Scott, his team owner Dick Simon, and his long-term sponsor Amway was extraordinary; however, the fact is that their program during those years had approximately 35% of the funding enjoyed by the top teams. What they accomplished on a comparative shoestring is quite remarkable. Scott was someone who did the best with what he had, never making excuses, and always giving 110% to his team, his sponsors, and his fans.

    Unlike any other sport, the race fans don't always get to see the inside, the back story, of the situation. For example, Scott's first lap crash at Indy in 1988. It was later determined that the wickerbill on the rear wing had come off and therefore the aerodynamics of the car were significantly affected. (If you do not know what a wickerbill is, I rest my case regarding your inexperience and lack of understanding of the sport).

    It is so easy for those whose racing knowledge is gleaned from nothing more than their subscription to a racing magazine and a beer-soaked day in the sun to render opinions laughingly attributed to their "expertise". Unlike any other sport, all too often the back story behind racing is never known by the general public. Sometimes it's equipment failure, sometimes driver error, sometimes inexplicable causes and, yes, sometimes just plain bad luck.

    I've ranted and raved here, but let me summarize: my time "behind the scenes" in the sport taught me a very important lesson and one that every fan should learn: you may never know the whole story about what you "think" you "saw" on the track. It is best to simply be awed by the considerable talent and skill of EVERY driver you watch. They are doing something you most likely could never do at a level very few are capable of achieving.