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COUNTERPOINT: Should INDYCAR adopt a green-white-checkered rule?

by
Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft
| Jul 12, 2012

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?

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PAUL says NO:

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.

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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.

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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 feedback@morefrontwing.com.

10 Comments

  1. 1 Bob 28 May
    The track was packed on Friday and also on Sunday. You know if you keep saying something over and over people start to believe it even if it's a lie. Indy cars are as popular as they have ever been you just haven't been around long enough to remember the old days. The crowds are the same they just kept adding on more and more seats at all the tracks in the belief that if you build it they will come. I still remeber when most of the sponsors were automotive companies. Steph, you need to go watch NASCAR(faux racing) if you're not happy with Indy cars. Don't let the door hit ya.
  2. 2 Bob 28 May
    NASCAR needs gimmicks Indycar doesn't. If you're lucky enough to be in the lead at the end of 500 miles then good for you. If you're not then it wasn't your day. If you don't find racing entertaining unless you have a contrived finish that meets your requirements then maybe you should go back to watching cartoons. Most of the media wouldn't even be there if they didn't get free tickets. What the hell do they know.
  3. 3 Sherri 20 Jul

    NO!

     

  4. 4 Sang 19 Jul
    No to GWC.  GWC finishes are akin to reseting the score in a football game and telling both teams, last touchdown wins.  I used to be a bigger NASCAR fan until NASCAR adopted competition cautions and GWC finishes taking the race out of the drivers' hands.  I'm glad IndyCar puts the race in the drivers hands (especially with this year's rules to reduce downforce on ovals) because real pure driver competition is what real motorsport is about!
  5. 5 Kurt 17 Jul
    The GWC is very much an American invention, short tracks and NASCAR use it, I doubt anyone can name an international series that uses it. So unless INDYCAR intends to become way way more Red, White and Blue American with fewer races in foreign countries and a driver lineup made up overwhelmingly of drivers of US citizenship then why would you want to adopt this uniquely American rule?
  6. 6 Jerry 16 Jul
    NO GWC, the race is the entertainment it is what it is,and if your a real Indy Car fan you should know that.
  7. 7 Lorne 14 Jul
    What about a team that has more than one car and their car is leading the race and won't finish the race or is cutting it close to running out of gas. What would stop one of their other cars say to slide into the wall to get a yellow flag so that their lead car could win the Race. What if this race was for the Championship. There could be alot of money at stake to cause this to happen. Money make people do strange things.
  8. 8 DJ 14 Jul
    NO to the GWC...this is a real event and should not be ruled by entertainment.  The race should be as planned...200 laps = 200 laps no matter what.
  9. 9 Alan 12 Jul

    No to GWC.  Racing is a competitive sport... and yes, racers have called it "the show" forever.  The competition is meant to BE the entertainment... the show.  What's next, have cars wait in their pit stall while one car with a fussy lug nut (or fumbling tire changer) finishes their service?  Better yet, maybe we should split up the race in quarters and take mandatory, scheduled breaks... oh wait, I guess those are called competition cautions by the tin tops.  The fact about racing is, sometimes there are accidents and when there are accidents there are caution periods to slow the cars down and provide the safety crews a chance to do their job.  This protects the safety crews and the drivers.  When it just happens to occur at or near the end of the race, you finish under yellow.  When it rains after half distance, the race is often red flagged and the leader at the time is the winner.  That's racin' folks.  It scares me to hear Steph relay the attitude of the generalist race media, who have apparently become infected by the contrived rules in NASCAR.  No GWC for IndyCar.  Please!!

  10. 10 Duke 12 Jul

    No. Green, white, checker doesn't work very well for the other race series. Cautions breed cautions. All it does is extend the race distance. The other series is geared up for wrecks, Indycars are not. How many Indycar races recently have finished under caution?  "If it ain't broke don't fix it"

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