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APRIL 1, 2007

Dangerous talk

Things are beginning to get more serious for the American open-wheeler championships with the Tampa Tribune reporting that Panther Racing boss John Barnes has floated the idea of the Indy Racing League becoming a support event for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

"We would make it where we would race on Saturday to replace a Busch or ARCA race, and they would race on Sunday," he said. "I have no problem being second fiddle to them, I just want to get in front of their fans and show them what real racing is all about."

The idea was quickly rejected by IRL marketing man Terry Angstadt who said that the IndyCar Series deserved to be a headline event rather than a side attraction at a NASCAR meeting.

"I think we are a tier one series," he said. "And certainly it would be hard to argue that the Indianapolis 500 is not a cornerstone event, if not the premier motor sports event in the world."

The important thing is not really that such a thing is or is not practical but rather that an IRL team boss would actually put such thoughts into words.

The fact remains that neither Champ Car nor the Indy Racing League is very healthy and there is no sign that there is any hope of reunification. Team owners in both series are carefully covering their bases with associated teams popping up in the various sports car series and in NASCAR just in case things get seriously bad.

IRL team boss Bobby Rahal has also put forward some strong words on the subject.

"I think open-wheel racing as a business may be the only business in the world that doesn't care what its customers say or think," he said. "We're its customers. In the automobile business, which I'm in, you get questionnaires ad infinitum about whether you're happy with this aspect or that aspect of the car. All the manufacturers are doing is trying to get enough information to understand whether their customers are satisfied or not. That doesn't exist here. If it did, we probably could have had a reunification a lot earlier.

"Perhaps it will happen, perhaps it won't. I don't know, but I don't lose any sleep over it any more."

Barnes's suggestion may not be as outlandish as it appears. One possible solution to the current impasse between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League could be to have a third series, devoid of all the problems that have ham-strung the two existing series. The teams involved could then vote with their feet and if a sufficient number decided to walk the two old championships would have little choice but to throw in their lot with the new formula.

NASCAR investors came up with just such an idea when they established the Grand American sports car series a few years back.

Perhaps some of the NASCAR people might even have a think about Barnes's idea.