(This letter is a reaction to the statement posted here: http://www.visionracing.com/news/index.cfm?cid=24942 and is a verbatim copy of a letter I have sent to the Vision Racing staff.)
This is actually a very difficult letter for me to compose. As recently as a year and a half ago, Tony George was a villain in my mind. The reason I am writing this today is not only to explain why I was wrong to think that extremely, to explain why I have been converted to a fan of his racing team, and to explain why my best hopes are that his team will find sponsorship and continue to function.
The Indy Racing League has enough negative memories among the media and other problematic connotations to overcome without having to add the insult of a world in hard times just as it seems most of the problems of the past are resolved. There are a lot of great people at Vision Racing that do not deserve the fate of a sudden end.
Why did I dislike Tony George? He was actually very forward-thinking. It took most of a decade or two for other kinds of motorsport to notice what Tony did in as early as the late 80’s, that highest-level racing is so over-competitive that it costs too much in both money and lives. His solution was a draconian one at the time, and the result in my then teenaged mind was unforgivable. My favorite motorsport was divided by an unexplainable schism and began to spiral away into anonymity and fear of insignificance. IRL and CART nearly rode themselves to complete starvation, but I knew which series I liked more and which one I hoped would come out the survivor.. and was wrong.
ChampCar became a North American kind of Formula 2, winding through street and road circuits of difficult blind right turns, in its last years becoming the showcase for the skills of Paul Tracy and Sebastian Bourdais. It is unclear to me why certain teams chose one series or the other, some even switching; maybe it was about money after all, as many things are, but the only thing I noticed when the deal was signed and ChampCar was merged into IRL, is that a lot of great people very immediately lost their jobs. I particularly recall a rather scathing blog by Eric Gagnon, who reported for ChampCar in its last years.
I recognize that Tony George was doing what he thought was best for his sport. I imagined a man that just wanted to dictate and run things, but in the past year I’ve seen a much different image. Why have I come around?
I am an amateur/semi-professional musician that used to have professional aspirations. I am a multi-instrumentalist, I program synthesizers and compose, I even used to write pop music. I wanted a way to show people the music I was working on, and at the time, it seemed like the best place to try to show people my works-in-progress was a site called Odeo. As an Odeo member, I was invited to look at a side project they were working on, that at the time, I didn’t understand at all, so I stopped using my account for the time being. That project was called Twitter.
A couple years ago, I heard so many people talking about Twitter, for no apparent reason, so I decided to see if my account was still active, and indeed, it was! I posted a few weak tweets, not really knowing what to do with it just yet, but this time I was resolved to “figure it out.”
One Sunday, I decided to tweet some comments about an IRL event I was watching, and I started to get followers based on it. I did some searching, I found other people that tweeted IRL during races too, and I started following, and picking up more followers, and so on, until by the time last year’s Indy 500 came about, I had about half the entrant’s teams in my follow list and a lot of fans and journalist types both on my follow and as followers. I understood what Twitter is for. ( I have since repeated the process for my other hobbies to brilliant effect.)
I forget which week it was, but I noticed that Vision Racing posted very specific information about Ed Carpenter’s car, to a point where I wondered just who was working the account, and why wasn’t that information considered too strategically dangerous to transmit on the web like that? I thought for a night or two that perhaps Tony George himself was working the account! (I have since learned otherwise, having a publicist work the account is one of the ways of social media, I’m afraid…) The surprise of surprises, though, was the discovery that Vision Racing was following me. I remember telling the transport my favorite route through Atlanta and Macon as they were on the way to Homestead. I suppose many teams had taken that route. I often see the Nascar transporters as they pass through my town on the way to and from Daytona…
Between the friendly conversations with staff, Ed’s smart and valiant driving, the clear improvement of the team, and Tony’s humiliations as the rest of his family appear to be stripping him of his power, I know clearly that even though the IRL/ChampCar split made my blood boil, I do not wish this kind of an ending on any human being. Although I am simply a spectator and I’m sure he has no idea who I am, I hope that Tony can accept my apology and my thanks for taking a big risk and doing what he thought was right at the time. I refuse to believe that this is how karma works. The story should not end like this, not with all the team as casualties.
Lastly, and most importantly, I’d like to request that any prospective sponsor have a look at what kind of people blog and tweet about the Indycar series. Since its troubles have slid the series under the media radar, and Nascar’s rise has the popular American opinion thinking that motor racing is about taking heavy passenger cars counter-clockwise around an oval for six hours at a time, please consider what a different kind of person watches Indycar instead. Consider also, what kind of demographic is being invited in by Izod’s sponsorship and ad campaigning, and how Indycar now has lots of room for growth, compared to how Nascar has reached its limit and is scrambling to avoid losing public mindshare and grip its fanatical supporters tightly. Newer, younger, smarter, and more fashionable brands will want to have their names in this series.
Even if this particular letter is for naught, I hope it’s not too late to save this sport. There are some great ideas in it that are yet to be tried.