Captain America

Posted by Iannucci | 4/08/2009 | 18 comments »
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One of the chief complaints aired by IndyCar fans in the comments section and message boards across the internet is that there aren't enough American drivers. The point is that an American-based racing series needs accomplished Americans to be successful, which makes sense considering how obsessed we are at kicking the living crap out of anyone who dares to challenge us. Just watch the Olympics. That's America, and it's what we do.

The current IndyCar series has lost some big names in recent years in drivers like Sam Hornish Jr, Scott Sharp, and Buddy Rice, who all scored multiple wins and in a couple cases also emerged victorious in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The current leaders in wins in the series are guys from Brazil, New Zealand, and England which means that collectively as a nation WE are the ones getting the living crap kicked out of us.

But that may be about to change.

This weekend we watched as Ryan Hunter-Reay spent about a week getting situated in a new car with a team that had never finished higher than (roughly) 20th place on a road or street course, and not only did he make the podium but he was one Ryan Briscoe mistake away from winning the race. That was, if I may speak for all of us, an extraordinary display of driving.

Which makes me wonder: is Ryan Hunter-Reay the best American driver in the series today? It's difficult to quantify this because he has exactly one win, which is the same as several other American drivers. However, among victorious Americans he's the only driver you can't say had the benefit of doing so with a championship team. (Then again, maybe Vision Racing proves that wrong this year. We'll see.)

Here are a few nominees for "Captain America" of the IndyCar series:

Marco Andretti 1 win, 49 starts, 16 Top 5s, 448 laps led. A couple breaks here and there and he might have won the Indy 500 twice by now.

Ryan Hunter-Reay 1 win, 24 starts, 2 Top 5s, 13 laps led. Oh, he also won a couple races in CART/Champ Car as well.

Danica Patrick 1 win, 65 starts, 11 Top 5s, 84 laps led. Running at finish 53 times shows she can take care of a car as well as anyone.

Graham Rahal 1 win, 16 starts, 1 Top 5, 19 laps led. Youngest race and pole winner in IndyCar history.

So who do you think is the best American driver in the IndyCar series?


  1. Anonymous // April 08, 2009 10:51 AM  

    I get so sick of this line of thought. I understand that many open wheel stars in the past were American, but many weren't. Did fans love Mario any less because he was born in Italy? How 'bout Arie Luyendyk? People have always fondly remembered when the biggest F1 stars would race here, but now suddenly its a reason for not watching? Take that to the Cab series if you want, but the dynamic history of open wheel is much different, and much better for it.

    If you want to be picky, are there any of the "foreign" drivers who don't live in the states full time now?

  2. Iannucci // April 08, 2009 11:01 AM  

    Relax, Mr or Mrs Anonymous - I'm simply asking a question here. I'm not some kind of Xenophobe who wants ONLY Americans in the series. Quite the contrary - to me the competition from all the different continents showcases the talent wherever they're from.

    I'm just throwing this out there for fans who might be a bit miffed that Americans keep getting their backsides handed to them week in and week out. Those people exist and they sometimes spend money on tickets as well. (In fact, I have one of them seated in my living room for every race who complains about this, so if you're tired of it of how do you think I feel?)

  3. redd // April 08, 2009 11:03 AM  

    I think, back in the day, that the majority of driver's were American-born and the stars--Ward, Jones, Foyt, Unsers, Andretti's, Mears, etc.--were American-born.

    So it was sorta interesting to see the "best" foreign-born drivers go up against "our" guys.

    I think the problem has been that American-born drivers haven't been competitive recently.

  4. Anonymous // April 08, 2009 11:07 AM  

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. I'm miffed at the comments on lots of blogs/Q&A's complaining about it, and I intended to direct the previous message to them. Its most obvious on Robin Miller's mailbag, and I believe he is pandering to the NASCAR mentality at SPEED in doing so.

  5. Tabernerus // April 08, 2009 11:39 AM  

    The problem is not that there have been fewer competitive Americans lately, or that America produces fewer road racers than oval racer, or any other such line of thinking. The problem is that America's best drivers end up racing in NASCAR, because they get paid a ton of money to do so, and because they get scooped up in a driver development program when they're 16. It's not just sprint car kids and hobby stockers, either. Colin Braun was born to race at Indy. He's the next in a long line of Texan-born racers that includes Lloyd Ruby and Super Tex himself who are good on dirt, pavement, ovals, road course, whatever. He's currently driving a freakin' pickup truck in circles, because he probably makes as much money doing that as he would driving for anyone in IndyCar not named Roger Penske. Imagine an IndyCar field that includes Hornish, Allmendinger, Marco, Graham Rahal, Danica, Buddy Rice, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, the Busch brothers, Kevin Harvick, and Hunter-Reay, and had Colin Braun, Hildebrand, Bomarito, Summerton, and maybe even Joey Logano waiting in the wings to move up. THAT is why there are fewer competitive Americans racing Indycars - because so many of those drivers would rather be paid extremely well, and more power to them. I want to be rich, too. Sorry Jeff, certainly not yelling or complaining. Just highlighting the real problem.

  6. AZZO45 // April 08, 2009 11:57 AM  

    Mr. Anonymous... Robin Miller is not "pandering" to NASCAR fans @ SPEED... Most NAPCAR fans only like N-racing & are "N" fans , not race fans (JMO)

    Emerson Fittipaldi was my favorite Indy driver. Loved Mansell telling Williams to shove his low-bid contract & coming to the USA to race. I was a big Bryan Herta fan, but would NOT have wanted Alex Zanardi barred from CART competition!!!

    However, NASCAR has been able to market "home grown" stars. Also, Jeff Gordon (& many others) don't use the Sprint Cup series as a spring board to another series.

    Graham Rahal seems to want to focus on a N/A based OW career (after publicly dreaming that F1 could be in his future). F1 test drivers are sub leasing... they want to buy their "house" in F1.

    CCWS died because they couldn't even field F1 "sub-leasers"... we had Daddy's Boys who bought their rides & the public did not CARE!!!

    Robin Miller has seen Alex Gurney, Casey Mears, Michael Valente, & a host of Americans that competed in the OW training ground series' move to NASCAR or other series to make a living.

    I want to see the world's best compete in my US based race series... but PLEASE... don't feed me this crap that non of our American kids can compete!!!

  7. Robert // April 08, 2009 12:02 PM  

    I have to agree with Tabernerus - I think??
    It comes down to simple College 098 Economics-
    Sponsors + licensing rights + appearances = big money to run 38 each weekend.
    Why run 12 in a series with little sponsorship, little TV coverage, and no real fan base buying stuff (okay- there is little to buy)?

  8. Sean // April 08, 2009 12:25 PM  

    RHR, by far. He's much more consistent than Marco and Danica (who are erratic), he nearly equaled their results last year for Rahal, which last year was nowhere near AGR, and second on the debut for Vision was excellent (but you forgot PT's fourth at Edmonton when you said Vision was never better than 20th.)

    Rice belongs in a top-level ride more than Marco, Danica, OR Graham IMO. So do Summerton and Bomarito, and presumably others. The problem isn't that there aren't enough Americans in the series, it's that they're not the best ones. Talent should be more important than name recognition, which is why Rice should have a ride more than the others (although I acknowledge that Danica beat him straight-up at RLR both years they were there.) Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal became famous for their talent, so I don't see why we need inferior descendants of racing legends rather than new racing legends. I also don't understand why RM talks about needing famous names in the series. I think IndyCar would be a lot more credible if it developed new stars rather than just keeping the old names around. There was, after all, a time when Andretti, Rahal, etc... were new stars...

    The foreigners (who aren't ride buyers) tend to be top talents from other OW series, rather than simply weaker children of top talents, and that's why they win.

  9. SandWedge // April 08, 2009 1:23 PM  

    RHR - also keep in mind he does have more wins in IndyCar, just on the CART/CCWS side, but still wins against good competition.

  10. SkipinSC // April 08, 2009 5:11 PM  

    I agree that most of the potential OW drivers are getting scooped up by the N-word. However, once you get past the retirements of several N-word Cup drivers (Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip, Bill Elliot, and a few others,) the future opportunities for young drivers is going to start to dry up fast.

    A lot of your major N-word stars are in their 30's and early 40's, and expect to race into their 50's. Hence, with the "refinements" to the series, I think more and more young drivers will go for the OW jobs, (even if there are NASCAR jobs out there,) simply because the road to the "top series" will be easier.

    True, there is the fear factor: It seems a lot "safer" to be riding a "cab" around at 170+ or so than piloting a missile at 220, and some may just not want to go that fast.

    Plus, sprints and midgets are no longer as conducive as a "background" to 150-200mph racing as they were back in the day.

    As some have put it previously, "we" are the ULTIMATE "extreme" sport.

  11. Michael Kaltenmark // April 08, 2009 6:33 PM  

    Vision Racing's previous best finishes on a road or street course was fourth scored by Paul Tracy in 2008 at Edmonton. Prior to that a pair of sixth place drives, one scored by Tomas Scheckter on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2007 and the other by Ed Carpenter in 2006 at Watkins Glen International remained the team’s best road and street drives. That is until Ryan Hunter-Reay's second place finish at St. Pete on Sunday, April 5, 2009. Hunter-Reay's second place drive is also the team's highest-ever finish.

  12. Iannucci // April 08, 2009 6:42 PM  

    Thanks for the info Michael. I was being facetious there with that "20th" remark, if for no other reason than the mere mention of the name "Paul Tracy" runs the risk of derailing an already unstable post.

    Hamburgers and Hot Dogs...

  13. Billy Coy // April 09, 2009 4:32 AM  

    I have no preference to a drivers homeland.

    I do like my Indy Car drivers to sound like Roberto Guerrero and my stock car drivers to sound like Ward Burton.

  14. Bill // April 09, 2009 5:34 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  15. pressdog // April 09, 2009 5:36 AM  

    Sorry for the false start above ... If the customers want more American drivers, the business that wants the customers' money should try to deliver them. Others have pointed out that N-word has thrived by (prepare to be shocked) giving the customers what they want. (Note: "customers" are fans, the ones who ultimately pay all the bills in racing.) RHR is the class of the American field right now.

  16. The American Mutt // April 09, 2009 6:49 AM  


    Good point, but based purely on the arguments HERE, most of us don't care about Nationality as much as Robin Miller, and the populace of his mailbag. Most of them don't actually like anything Tony George, and try to find reasons to hate the series. More importantly. How many americans would be as good at driving open wheel?

    Most of the, historically speaking, usual backgrounds don't really apply to Indycar racing anymore. USAC makes a driver much more prepared for Nascar style driving. Most of the lower tier racing series really just naturally tend to lead into a front engine loose rear car...don't they? If I'm off on this feel free to correct me.

  17. The SpeedGeek // April 09, 2009 10:58 AM  

    I'm probably a bit with Mutt and a bit with Pressdog on this. I've never really been a guy who cared too much about nationality, but I do think it's important for The League to have maybe 30-40% American drivers, for the sake of fans who do feel territorial like that. Currently, we've got the four that Jeff listed, plus Carpenter and the immortal Mr. Barrett. That's 6 out of 22, which is barely outside of my range there. I'd be happy to get one more in the series, and like Pressdog, I really wish that it'd be somebody who American companies (i.e. companies who are theoretically looking to advertise in the US) could really get behind. It's crazy to me that a guy who won the 500 just 5 years ago, is maybe just barely past the apex of his career right now and had some great runs for a mid-pack team in the last couple of seasons isn't employed full-time, but maybe that's going to change soon. There are plenty of good Americans in the feeder series right now who could fit the bill as well. Really, if we had 7-8 Americans in the series, shouldn't that be enough for fans who look for stars and stripes next to the cockpit name stickers? There's no shortage of different demos in the group we're talking about, either.

    On the original topic, I'd pick RHR. Smaller percentage of top-5s than Danica or Marco, but when his team has given him a competetive car, he's gotten it into the top-3 basically every time. That is, when he hasn't gotten hit by Marco.

  18. Too Much Racing // April 09, 2009 2:53 PM  

    I agree with Speedgeek.
    Speaking from the British perspective it is crazy to have an IndyCar series with anything fewer than 12 or 14 North American drivers (need the Canadians too). Say 10 US and 3 or 4 CDN, of which at least 5 as a basic minimum have to be of high quality. (You'll always get ride-buyers.)

    Same number again for non-NAs.

    The whole point of IndyCar racing is to pitch drivers from all over the place against the best NA has to offer in a variety of race situations.