In COUNTERPOINT, MoreFrontWing.com co-editors Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft face off on topics relating to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither sees the other’s argument until the two sides are put together. It’s up to you to decide who’s made the better case!
This week: Should INDYCAR adopt a green-white-checkered rule?
PAUL says NO:
The problems with introducing green-white-checkered finishes to INDYCAR go well beyond just finishing the race under green flag.
This argument has morphed into a greater philosophical debate: is INDYCAR racing a sport -- and as such driven by competition -- or is it entertainment, needing to first cater to the wants of the paying fan base?
Answering this question, or at least having a consistent corporate direction, shapes the entire focus of the argument.
From a fan standpoint, I think I can say with almost universal support that implementing GWC finishes in INDYCAR is an awful idea. Poll after poll (online and unscientific, of course) says that INDYCAR fans are vehemently against the idea, almost as much as they were against the idea of "Lucky Dog" passes last year. What fans want is for any gimmick applied in the IZOD IndyCar Series not to impact the purity of the racing. Whether that is GWC, or Lucky Dog, or spike strips from the pace car, INDYCAR fans don't want rules that unfairly impact a particular driver or alter the fundamental way the race is carried out.
The fact is that INDYCAR fans understand that leader at the posted and scheduled race distance is the winner of the race. INDYCAR races shouldn't be scheduled for "300 miles or such distance that drivers can successfully complete two green flag laps after 300 miles are complete." 200 laps is 200 laps. That's it.
Before proceeding, let me address what I'm sure will be the most used argument against that last statement -- the yellow flag pack-up rule. When USAC began looking at ways to address the safety concerns of drivers and on-track emergency responders in the '60s, technology was nowhere near the level it is today. Several methods were used to help slow the field down and make the track safer for course workers without altering the composition of the race. It was obvious the honor system was no longer effective and the pacer light was only marginally more useful. The pack-up rule was the best alternative, and although it certainly alters the purity of the race, one could easily make the argument that it does so in the name of safety. Such cannot be said for other gimmicks that have been floated about. If today's technology existed in 1979 when the pack-up rule was first introduced for the Indianapolis 500, I think we would have seen more of a system where engines were remotely disabled by the Series while the course was under caution, allowing the leader to maintain whatever competitive advantage he had previously gained.
The fact that INDYCAR has not (nor has any racing series, for that matter) considered abandoning the pace car system is because there is most certainly more of an entertainment aspect to auto racing now than there was 40 years ago. Somewhere along the way, racing fans (and probably society as a whole) came to expect auto racing to be a source of entertainment rather than a sport. Instead of following racing because of the natural competition (which was the entertainment), fans wanted the race itself to be entertainment with the aspect of competition secondary. In many ways, it was no longer about what was fair for the drivers and appreciating great performances. It became about constant action and thrilling passes. If Rick Mears drove his car masterfully on the edge for 200 laps and won by three laps, it was boring. If 22 of 33 cars were eliminated in crashes (especially if many of them were in big crashes together) and every position changed on every lap, that was entertaining and it was a great "race."
I will admit to having been as guilty as anyone of this mentality over the years. For a long time, I was always excited to see Indy cars on the 1.5-mile ovals because I knew the action was going to be exciting and entertaining from start to finish. Was it the best test of driver performance? No, probably not, but it did test the fortitude of the drivers and show who really had the guts to push the car right to the very edge. While many complained the drivers were completely out of the equation, there was a reason why guys like Sam Hornish and Dan Wheldon and Tomas Scheckter were so great on those tracks. They had the skill and the guts to go where other guys couldn't. That was exciting.
In the vein of racing being a form of entertainment, fans also came to expect thrilling, entertaining action at each and every race. They came to think they were entitled to it. If they didn't see 15 cars crash, if they didn't see a pass on every lap, if they didn't see a finish decided by less than one second, many thought they had somehow been ripped off. It's from this train of thought that the GWC finish originated. Fans, or more likely promotors, somehow thought that if the race 200 laps long was cut short by a few laps and the race ended under yellow then the winner was somehow less valid -- the "bang for the buck" was diminished because the winner did come screaming across the line at full speed.
I personally think this is a ridiculous argument. Just how often do races ended at the scheduled distance have a last-lap pass for the lead anyway? Sure there are a few instances, but I firmly believe more races have seen artificial winners and losers because of the GWC system in NASCAR than would have been expected if a race had not been cursed with a late-race caution. Too many races have been fundamentally altered because of the notion that fans must see an exciting finish. It makes me wonder how so many other sports have survived mostly unaltered for so long.
One further point: think of the added expense GWC would bring to the teams. Rare are the INDYCAR restarts (especially on road courses) that don't cause damage. Throw in the naturally aggressiveness of a late-race dash to the finish and costs are guaranteed to quickly escalate. For a group of owners already complaining that they can't afford the aero kits that were due to be out this year, were delayed to next year, and are likely to be delayed indefinitely, understanding how they could promote or accept GWC is baffling.
STEPH says YES:
I want this to be very clear right up front: the side I’m arguing here is not where my heart lies.
I despise the green-white-checkered rule. It’s gimmicky, it’s contrived, it’s artificial, and it messes with all of the parts of racing that I love most. And it’s fair to say that most long-time North American open-wheel racing fans feel the same way.
There’s just one problem: sitting in the media center post-race on Sunday, there was not a single person in my immediate vicinity who agreed with me.
At that time, I was surrounded not by people who follow INDYCAR exclusively and in-depth but by generalists who know a little bit about a lot of different forms of racing. To them, allowing Sunday’s race to finish under yellow was seemingly the gravest of tragedies, enough to negate an entire race’s worth of enjoyment.
“People paid good money for those tickets,” I was told. “They deserve to see a finish under green.”
They deserve fair competition, if you ask me -- not orchestrated specutainment. Anyone who feels he or she “deserves” anything in a competitive sport needs to work out some entitlement issues.
But no one outside of the INDYCAR community seems to see it that way anymore.
We live in the era of flashy graphics, fleeting attention spans, and instant gratification. Ask any teenager which of the two options he or she prefers. I promise it won’t take long for the majority to say, “Are you seriously asking me this? Whatever.” (Translation: they want to see a race to the end.)
We also live in an era where INDYCAR is, sadly, not necessarily the form of motorsport that the average North American racing fan is always most familiar with.
There are more people out there than there are in here at the moment. INDYCAR needs to figure out how to take those people out there and bring them in here. Making the rules more uniform across the various North American disciplines might make INDYCAR more accessible to potential fans.
We can kick and scream and claim we’ll walk away all we want (but we won’t -- we’ve all stuck it out through much more controversial things than this and we know it), but it doesn’t change one thing.
When the options are either to conform and adopt a green-white-checkered rule or risk confusing and alienating a highly desirable market, INDYCAR doesn’t really seem to have much of a choice at all.
Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft are co-editors of MoreFrontWing.com, a website dedicated to helping fans get a grip on INDYCAR news and views. Reach them both at firstname.lastname@example.org.