Friday, May 6, 2016

Can I Love This?

When the news Mario Domínguez was in consideration for an Indianapolis 500 entry with Michael Shank Racing broke, the finer details were daggers to the heart. It's nothing personal against Domínguez. You can't hate the player, you have to hate the game and right now the game no longer tickles my fancy.

Domínguez's story would intrigue the non-diehard fans. Eight years ago, Domínguez was the final driver on track trying to bump his way into the Indianapolis 500. His first lap was on pace to make the field. He didn't complete a second lap. A spin in turn one ended the dream and after running a handful of races with Pacific Coast Motorsports later in 2008, Domínguez's career fizzled out. A few FIA GT1 World Championships races ran in 2009 but then four years on the sidelines before returning to competition in NASCAR Toyota Series in Mexico. Domínguez's story is one of redemption. A man getting a second chance many thought would never come. However, his second chance comes because of the game's thirst for green.

Domínguez has money. Somehow, a man who has been out of top tier competitive motorsports for most of the last decade has the funding for an Indianapolis 500 program. Gabby Chaves might have finished all but one race on his way to being IndyCar's 2015 Rookie of the Year and that lone retirement was an engine failure when he was in contention for a podium at Pocono but the 22-year-old's check apparently pales in comparison to the Mexicans and that is all that matters. Chaves completed the second most laps in 2015 behind only Ryan Hunter-Reay. Chaves showed he has the ability to be fighting the big boys in IndyCar and deserves another crack at the Indianapolis 500 but even recent success does not trump the check from an inactive driver.

It's nothing personal against Domínguez. I think he should attempt to qualify from the Indianapolis 500 but the drama of Bump Day has disappeared because it now takes place in boardrooms over who has the largest check and not on the track over who can run the fastest over ten miles. I want the Indianapolis 500 starting grid to be determined on the racetrack. I want Domínguez, Chaves, Katherine Legge, James Davison, Brian Vickers, Sebastián Saavedra and whoever else is working on an Indianapolis 500 deal in the shadows to let the stopwatch decide whether or not they race and not a team owner who wants his or her pocket padded.

Motorsports want to be taken serious and in the United States. Whether it is IndyCar or NASCAR, they want to be taken seriously by the greater sporting world. They want to be on SportsCenter between LeBron James dunks and Bryce Harper home runs. But how can any sports fan fall in love when money decides who competes and who doesn't? People want to see competition, not a bidding war and they want to see talent and success rewarded.

After years of struggling to fill the field, once IndyCar reunified Bump Day returned to the dramatic day we all knew and loved. In 2008, it was Domínguez vs. Marty Roth. Not Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas but still something. In 2009, Nelson Philippe and Milko Duno forced John Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay to scramble to make it back into the field and Alex Tagliani ended up on the outside. The following year saw Tony Kanaan struggle to make the race. Paul Tracy and Jay Howard continued to withdraw fast enough times to qualify and Sebastián Saavedra made the race despite being in hospital after an accident in practice and not bumping his way in. The final year of the Dallara IR07 chassis saw the Penske of Ryan Briscoe needing to qualify on the final day and Paul Tracy again in danger of failing to qualify. When the gun went off, two Andretti cars failed to qualify and another five were also on the outside. You don't need a hundred cars to make Bump Day dramatic. Four or five cars can lead to a notable name in danger of making the race.

IndyCar isn't the only series where the dollar rules. GP2 champions can't make it to Formula One but the driver who finished fourth gets a ride with no problems. Plenty of talented drivers are choosing sports cars over Formula One. There is nothing wrong with choosing sports cars over single-seaters but how can a series bill itself as that best series in the world when the top prospects choose a different path?

Can I love the current state of motorsports? No. The concerning thing is the series don't seem to think it is a problem but it is. People want to see the best compete and not the richest. Instead of accepting the way it is, changes should be made especially as series try to attract more viewers. People want competition and they want it on the racetrack, not behind closed doors.