Monday, May 27, 2002
IRL shouldn't feel pressured to change
By Jack Arute Special to ABC Sports Online
When all the dust settles from this year's Indianapolis 500 finish, the question that will remain is whether to race to the finish line or not. It's a debate that has supporters and critics lining up on opposite sides.
Indy racing calls for a cessation of racing immediately upon the change from green racing conditions to a caution. In NASCAR's Winston Cup Series, the race continues to the start/finish line.
Helio Castroneves crossed the finish line just before Paul Tracy at Indianapolis.
At first look, it seems that racing to the start/finish line would better represent the intent of the sport -- racing. But racers will tell you that racing like that at the speeds produced at places like Indy or Charlotte is a dangerous proposition.
NASCAR drivers have lobbied hard and long to get their sanctioning body to change their version of the rule. The primary reason why this issue remains unchanged in NASCAR is its emphasis upon the "entertainment value" it provides.
The same people outside of racing's inner circle who are now demanding that Indy Car racing adopt this formula decried it following Dale Earnhardt's death when NASCAR's safety procedures were unfairly put under a microscope.
Those people should consider the fact that NASCAR remains committed to upholding whoever is declared the winner remains the official winner despite any and all post-race inspection infractions.
But this is not supposed to be a NASCAR/Indy Car comparison. Instead, it is about an eye towards safety.
When A.J. Foyt threaded his way through the wreckage and debris to win his second Indianapolis 500 in 1964, he was racing to the start/finish line. It made for a moment that finds its way into every Indy ABC telecast complete with Jim McKay's pleading call "Where's Foyt?" but it was a dangerous moment when speeds were under 200 mph.
Racing back to the line is always a gamble. It is something that more and more sanctioning bodies are abandoning. It is unfortunate that a caution played a role in the outcome of this year's "500", but like rain, a late race caution is part of the racing equation.
The percentage of times that this safety rule dictates the outcome of a race is not sufficient to mandate a change. Instead, it is hoped that the IRL will stay its course and keep its safety focus.
IRL Car construction rules concentrate on specific safety issues to benefit the drivers. Left unchecked, Indy Cars could easily top 250 mph. Death, however, is the downside to safety neglect.
The speedway that invested millions to develop a SAFER wall system to help drivers' margin of safety is the same one that is subjected to calls for racing back to the line.
It is an uninformed position, an unsafe position and hopefully not a change that will be made by the IRL as a result of what happened in this year's 500.
Jack Arute writes a column every Monday for ABC Sports Online.