The IndyCar.com site is trying to mix it up this year by having the broadcast personalities write essays about what they are paying attention to during the 2007 ICS season, which is a great idea that unfortunately ends up producing pieces about as interesting as a bowl of soggy corn flakes. There just hasn’t been that much personality coming from these personalities.
Well, lo and behold Scott Goodyear of all people has stepped up and said something darn near controversial in his latest submission. In a piece entitled “There’s a big difference between scary and scared” auto racing’s most analytical analyst has unleashed his bad self and echoed what many fans have commented here and elsewhere: the racing is not nearly as exciting as it was.
Sure this is hard work, and only the brave need apply, but the fun factor has gone from something that use to be a natural high for drivers. We like to race the competition side by side, see how close we can run to the car next to us and be in control of giving ourselves a thrill. We like to push the edge and step over the line a couple of times a lap, always taking into consideration of the risk/reward ratio doing something we love. Yeah, we know it's dangerous. We figured that out by how much our life insurance premiums cost each year, but that's what makes this thrilling and causes our heart rate to soar to a point where you can feel your chest pound against the seat belts in the car.Remember folks, this man gets paid to talk the league UP, not criticize it. Since Goodyear isn’t exactly the kind of guy who does a lot of belly-aching about mergers and driver ability and financial woes (like say certain reporters) it will be interesting to see if he is able to successfully lobby for what he thinks is the most necessary change: the return of final practice on race day (shocker!)
As drivers, each Sunday we put our life on the line to make our paychecks. That's why the fans sit in the stands or tune in to watch on TV. We know we are in the entertainment business and we are paid to put on a show for the fans and give them a thrill on race day. Unfortunately, so far this year, the drivers' heart rates are up for the wrong reason and the fun meter is no longer showing green.
The thrill behind the wheel is gone.
I can't remember the last time I saw so many teams struggle with the race setup of their cars on an oval. Many people have different opinions about why teams seem so far off this season. Whether you think it's aero related or Firestone providing a different tire at some tracks, the rules are the same to all who compete in the series.It made some sense that the elimination of final practice would reduce the possibility of fans showing up and being told that certain drivers would not be able to participate on race day, but if safety and entertainment are driving the decision then the opposite has occurred. As Goodyear points out we have had several drivers unable to effectively participate in races because they haven’t hammered out their setup, and the remaining ones have said they would prefer to lay down some rubber on the track before they get underway.
That said, one common factor I hear from most drivers is they would love to see the final practice return so they can spend more time working on race setup and, more importantly, running in traffic to better prepare for race day. Without the final warm-up, when the green flag falls, we seem to have a couple of teams that have hit the setup for the track conditions of the day, a few other teams will run strong for a dozen laps or so, then the car starts to go off big time. The remaining teams have given their driver something that scares them so bad they wish they didn't come to work for the day.
As I’ve said before (and I’m certainly much lower on the opinion scale than Goodyear) this is exactly the kind of issue that should be dictated by drivers and teams. The fans don’t care about this kind of stuff because unless something goes wrong we don’t se the final practice. It’s generally a driver issue, but seeing Andretti park his car and watching Hornish fiddle with his setup at the start of a race are making this a fan issue. If bringing back the final practice will improve the level of competition to something other than having Dan Wheldon lapping the field then I’m all for it.
It’s unusual in the IRL to change the rules mid-season, but this looks like a rule that shouldn’t have been changed in the first place. Count this as one vote in support of Goodyear's quest get rid of the Rusty Wallace Rule. If we wanted boring racing we’d be watching another series.
UPDATE: AJ Foyt writes about the effects of losing final practice in his latest Foyt Files submission to USAToday. Although Super Tex doesn’t explicitly say they should get rid of it, it’s still worth mentioning that he’s even talking about this as a reason for being less competitive on race day.