Race Weekend Central

Paul Tracy, Eat Your Heart Out

“Why can’t we be friends?” I’m looking at YOU, Paul Tracy!

In case you missed, in the days leading up to the Memorial Day weekend of racing that includes 1,100 miles of racing in one day, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Paul Tracy took a shot at NASCAR and its apparent lack of everything that the magical land of IndyCar is overflowing with. For instance, competitiveness, accessibility and just an all around better atmosphere were all listed as reasons why IndyCar is supposedly superior to NASCAR. Also, apparently NASCAR is “too loud” (because anyone who has been to an IndyCar race knows that it’s not loud at all, right?!).

I’ve never paid near as much attention to IndyCar as I have NASCAR, simply because I was satisfied with what NASCAR had to offer and, while I kept up with the open-wheel series by watching highlights and reading headlines, I very rarely ever tune into the actual race. It has nothing to do with me thinking that I’m too good for the series, that the series lacks competition or any of the other things Tracy accused NASCAR of.

It was nothing other than a lack of interest, and the fact that NASCAR’s season is so long, that it’s usually enough to keep me entertained for most of the year. I have always respected the series and the amount of talent and skill it takes to wheel a racecar around a track at speeds that make NASCAR look like the tortoise instead of the hare.

In other words, it’s just a matter of preference. I prefer NASCAR’s stock cars to the open-wheel cars and am perfectly satisfied with the speeds and level of competition. It’s not always bone-chillingly exciting, but neither is IndyCar, no matter what Tracy would lead us to believe. Both series have their share of great fans and great racing, but have also experienced droughts of lack of interest and some less than intriguing racing.

Which brings us to last weekend’s spectacle of the biggest day in motorsports. I was unable to watch either race from start to finish, but still kept up for the most part between Twitter, radio and the parts of the TV broadcasts I was able to see.

Originally, I decided that both races were solid, competitive races with exciting finishes, though there were more than enough instances of strung-out green flag racing. Both races exceeded my expectations in terms of competitiveness and I was pleasantly surprised as to how well both races went.

After checking some numbers, highlights, and other opinions I’ve read from people who spent their Memorial Day weekend watching racing, I’ve decided to hold true to that opinion.

Neither race was all that interesting in the middle, but both set up a nail-biting and edge-of-your-seat finish — with fuel mileage, of all things! — in which you literally did not know who won the race until after the checkered flag had flown. In fact, following the checkered flag in both races, it took me several seconds to realize who the actual winner of the race was and several minutes for my heart to stop racing.

See also
Full Throttle: Memorial Day Racing a Way to Give Thanks & Remember

The brilliant display of driving ability (and patience for both winners) was imminent in both races and survival of the fittest (and smartest) held true in one of the most grueling endurance races in either series. In other words, it was a great day for race fans everywhere.

While admittedly I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the IndyCar Series this year, supporters and insiders from the series seem satisfied with the level of competition this season which is usually all it takes to convince people to start tuning in. Personally, I feel this NASCAR season has also been very exciting and competitive, and picking a winner for every week seems to be getting harder, not easier. I enjoy the unpredictable atmosphere in NASCAR right now, and hope it continues through the rest of the season.

In all honesty, I found Tracy’s comments to be misguided, unnecessary and seemed to reflect poorly upon his attitude, as well as anyone who tries to start a popularity contest about one against the other. It’s perfectly OK to prefer one series over the other — I still prefer NASCAR. But there are plenty of great folks out there who enjoy all different types of racing just because… well, they like racing! It doesn’t make one person (or series) better than the other, it’s just what they enjoy more.

Tracy’s comments have done nothing to convince me to start tuning into more IndyCar races, simply because it doesn’t bode very well with me when his main promotional trick for the sport is disparaging their strongest competition.

Is NASCAR boring? Sometimes. But so is IndyCar. So is every other racing series. With endurance races where some of the “shortest” races of the year are still around 200-300 miles, you are going to have moments where you wonder what you’re tuning in for the in the first place. But it’s the moments — no matter how brief — of exhilaration, adrenaline and emotion that remind us all why we love racing in the first place.

As JR Hildebrand took the white flag at the end of the Indy 500, most of us thought he had the race won. The moment he hit the wall, our hearts skipped a beat, we drew in a breath and our hearts simultaneously broke for Hildebrand and warmed for Dan Wheldon in a moment that will be a part of IndyCar’s legacy forever.

In the same way, on the final restart of the night in the 600, most of us waited with baited breath to see who would win the 600 as several drivers ran out of fuel and even spun in the closing laps with Kevin Harvick moving by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the last possible moment in a victory no one saw coming. Like Hildebrand, many hearts broke for Earnhardt but were happy for Harvick and marveled at the amazing finish they had just witnessed.

As the Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway this weekend, the race could very well be dull, with one driver dominating the race and winning by several seconds over the second-place driver. We could also see a driver dominate but fall short at the end of the race due to fuel mileage, tire strategy or a late-race restart or mistake that seals his doom.

Or it could be the complete opposite and feature a highly competitive race with several drivers wheeling race-winning cars and an unpredictable finish with several drivers battling for the win as the laps wind down. You just never know. The same can be said when the IndyCar series returns to competition at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11, with several different scenarios possible for a series that has just as much to live up to as NASCAR, if not more.

For race fans, it’s that unpredictability that keeps so many tuning in week in and week out, regardless of which series they call home. Even if victory seems imminent for one driver, it’s the possibility of a classic moment of “Oh my goodness, did you see THAT?!” which compels us all to remain glued to our TV sets week in and week out. Of course not every race will be a classic, but it’s the last-lap instances of unanticipated split-second occurrences that we saw over the weekend that remind us all why we love racing so much.

So, to Paul Tracy’s “boring” comments, I say hogwash! Both series have great drivers that provide great racing which leads to great moments even if it’s not every lap of the race. That said, both series have a good thing going right now – neither is perfect and both have areas in which they need to improve on. But there are more than enough who will tune into one or both series for the rest of the year, simply because of the love of racing. And shouldn’t that be enough?

By the way, I’m strongly considering tuning into the IndyCar Series more regularly. No, not because of Tracy’s comments, but because of moments like the one from Sunday that I know I will remember forever. You can’t have too many racing memories stored in the memory bank, now can you?

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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