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An explanation of how US racing might have evolved without Indy

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  • An explanation of how US racing might have evolved without Indy

    Howard started a very good thread, posing the question of how OW racing in America might have evolved, had Indy been bulldozed after WWII. I found it to be one of the most enjoyable threads on TF for quite a while, unfortunately, it got buried in personal shots and name-calling (I'm guilty, too), and Rev locked it this morning.

    I feel that there were things undone and issues unaddressed in that thread. Apparently, Peter Olivola does too, for he PM'd me to finish it. I'd rather finish the discussion in public, so here's the deal: I'm going to post my explanation of how racing in this country might have evolved after WWII without Indianapolis as a hub. I'm also going to ask some questions. If you have an alternative idea, please post it and let's debate it, but:

    Let's refrain from personal shots and name-calling, so Rev doesn't have to kill this one, too! If you're not capable of that, please stay out of this thread. I pledge no personal attacks in this thread.

    OK, here's my thought as to how it would have gone:

    Myself, I think that open wheel racing would have been drastically affected. Indy was the only thing that really put it on a higher footing than other forms of motorsport in the US after WWII. Sports car racing and road racing in general would have proceeded pretty much as they did - to believe otherwise is to ignore other trends. Simply put, American cars from the turn of the century through about 1975 really didn't lend themselves well to road racing, and certainly, a lack of Indy wouldn't have affected American tastes in automobiles.

    Oval racing would have still dominated, because of three factors. First, availability - there were so darn many ovals, and TONS of short ovals were built between '45 and '60, particularly in the middle of the country. 38 ovals were built in Kansas alone in the '50s.

    Second, oval racing was very much an "everyman" type activity. Donor cars were - and still are - cheap and widely available, letting Joe Sixpack go racing with a couple months' pay if he really wants to. In contrast, membership in the SCCA was very much like a country club up through the late '50s - it wasn't enough to have a car and a desire, you had to KNOW someone and be sponsored by a member. I've talked to people who were there....

    Finally is the issue of racing for money - part and parcel of the oval racing from the very beginning. Virtually every oval racer in the country (CAR racers, anyway) races for a purse, even the lowliest street stocker. Road racing, on the other hand, descended from the "gentlemen" tradition of amateur sportsmen and no money. Pro road racing didn't exist until the mid-50s in this country, and even then, "pro" races paid about what a Saturday night jalopy feature paid.

    Further, European formula racing, with the exception of the "top" formulae, was based on engines that were scarce on the ground in the United States. F3, for instance, was based on 500cc engines - a type of engine only found in motorcycles here. Other formulae were based on 1-liter four cylinder engines - again, not found here, but common and cheap in Europe.

    So, what forms of oval racing would have survived? Well, Cammy has already pointed out the Midgets, but remember that they virtually died out by the mid-50s in a lot of areas, to be replaced by jalopies. Would they have continued anywhere had it not been for Indy? Who knows?

    The jalopies evolved into Modifieds, then Supermodifieds, then Sprinters. Yes, there already were sprint cars, but in a lot of areas (Kansas/Missouri/Oklahoma/Iowa being one), they sort of "merged" with the sprinters in the '70s. Without Indy - and thus USAC - maybe the World of Outlaws model would have taken hold sooner?

    And remember, no Indy probably means little or no European interest and influence on our open wheel racing. So, maybe Cammy is on target when he says:


    quote:
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Originally posted by CamKing:
    There would have been another marque event, but most likely it wouldn't be a 2.5 mile track that holds 400k. Most likely it would have been an event on a track closer in size to the more popular tracks at the time. The Marque event very possibly could have been a mile dirt track. Without the success of Indy, there most likely would have been no need for superspeedways in open wheel racing. Without the superspeedways, I don't think the cars would have morphed into what they are now. I think without the Indy 500, open wheel racing would have survived and evolved into something close to Silver Bullet cars.

    OK, now for some questions for those who believe that the European model might have become dominant here, if Indy had gone away:

    1. Would Americans then be driving Hillmans instead of Hudsons, or Ford Populars instead of Fairlanes?

    2. Would fairgrounds ovals have been bulldozed and replaced with road courses? Further, would cow pastures throughout the country be peppered with road courses?

    3. Would the SCCA have let Joe Sixpack in without a "sponsor"?

    4. Would road racing have paid cash purses at every race, even local ones?

    5. Further, would the SCCA have created large, accessible classes which could be filled by readily available junkyard automobiles, cheaply?

    Bottom line - you can't divorce American consumer tastes, and the American automobile industry, from American racing. JMO, of course, I welcome constructive debate...

    [ January 15, 2002: Message edited by: Racewriter ]
    "It was actually fun, because you're back fully driving again in these trucks. Ninety percent of the tracks we go to in the IRL, you're flat-out. I was having to lift off the corners some here." - Buddy Rice

  • #2
    Don't you wonder too, if there was not an Indianapolis Motor Speedway, if the racing "Cottage Industry" would have migrated to, say, Detroit, much like the Auto Manufacturers did earlier in the century?

    Of course this all make me think of the "Bizzaro World" from the Superman comics of my childhood. Just too strange.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by indyracer56:
      <STRONG>Don't you wonder too, if there was not an Indianapolis Motor Speedway, if the racing "Cottage Industry" would have migrated to, say, Detroit, much like the Auto Manufacturers did earlier in the century?

      Of course this all make me think of the "Bizzaro World" from the Superman comics of my childhood. Just too strange. </STRONG>
      Interesting thought. I don't know, but we would do well to remember the fact that a lot of the "cottage industry" based itself in California after the war. Heck, Watson and Kurtis were from Cali.
      "It was actually fun, because you're back fully driving again in these trucks. Ninety percent of the tracks we go to in the IRL, you're flat-out. I was having to lift off the corners some here." - Buddy Rice

      Comment


      • #4
        I think you pretty much hit it. I think you need to look more at what was going on on the west coast instead of the midwest, because that is where the money was in the 50's. Most of the great engine and chassis men in the 50's-60's were in California. The money that was invested to race and promote Indy would have gone somewhere, and I think it would have stayed in Midget/sprint/silver crown type racing.
        "IRL" ... what IS that anyway?

        J. Michael Ringham
        Vice President, Marketing
        IndyCar® Series Indy Pro Series

        www.jonescams.com yankeegoback.com

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Racewriter:
          <STRONG>

          Interesting thought. I don't know, but we would do well to remember the fact that a lot of the "cottage industry" based itself in California after the war. Heck, Watson and Kurtis were from Cali.</STRONG>
          I don't think too many would have migrated. Champion Spark Plug co moved my dad to toledo to head their racing facility. In less than a year he told them to fire him or move him back to California. They decided to build him the Champion Sparg Plug West coast racing facility. Not too many Californians can deal with the mid-west winters.

          Champion spark Plug Co is a case in point for the money having to go somewhere. Champion spent tons of Money to have my dad's development team develope engines for different forms of racing to promote their products. Their main focus was Indy, but if there was no Indy they would focused on something else. I think since most of the hot shots were in midget racing(Watson, Kurtis, Edelbrock, Drake, ect.) that is where the money would have went.
          "IRL" ... what IS that anyway?

          J. Michael Ringham
          Vice President, Marketing
          IndyCar® Series Indy Pro Series

          www.jonescams.com yankeegoback.com

          Comment


          • #6
            My take is this. Indianapolis was THE payday. Without it I simply cannot see a strong open wheel series. Futhermore, the TV money started to flow in the 50's. I honestly cannot remember any racing on TV outside of closed circuit and tape delay of Indianapolis in the 60's.

            Had there been no Indianapolis, NASCAR, in my opinion, would have become the dominant form of racing much earlier than it did. It was already quite successful in the South by the mid 50's, more so than open wheel in other parts of the country even with its tie to Indy.

            Please understand that when I talk of open wheel, I'm speaking of Big Cars, Champ Cars, or Indy Cars...

            Comment


            • #7
              I'd like to stick to your conclusion that road racing in the U.S. would probably have developed much as it did. I think that's true to a point. The point being when Roger Penske and the import manufacturers went looking for bigger challenges.

              Before making his committment to full participation in the series supporting the Indy 500, he ventured into F1 and with that venture, U.S. interest in F1 peaked (fell and recovered when Mario went F1 but declined again until Michael tried.) Without Indy, I think the growth of interest in F1 would have continued, Penske's subsequent withdrawl notwithstanding. His involvement could easily have drawn others in, and Carl Haas did give it a try. Without Indy who knows? The lack of anything resembling the kind of racing these men were drawn to in the U.S. would probably have led to an entirely different outcome.

              1. I think that's irrelevant. By the late 1960's imports had become a significant factor in the U.S. market and continued to grow, so the point seems more about presenting a couple of inappropriate foreign cars than what would have happened to the U.S. market. What would have happened to the U.S. market did happen.

              2. Of course not. Road racing's growing popularity didn't then or now depend entirely on the availability of local tracks. Watkins Glen was hardly local to the vast majority of spectators attending.

              3. Yes. Again, this is how things progressed. The changes from its earliest model had little if anything to do with factors outside the club itself.

              4. No. And again, that hasn't been a factor in the popularity growth of road racing.

              5. Unknown, probably not. Still not relevant to how road racing progressed.

              American consumer tastes have progressed through a series of stages that finds us with a significant portion of the market dominated by imports running engines very different from pushrod V-8's, among other things.

              Without the focus of Indy, road racing would have been the most logical place for those manufacturers to strut their stuff, and, again, the history of import manufacturers includes their early involvement in road racing. Without Indy, with an emphasis on cheap local oval track racing, with a further entrenched difference between european style race cars and that being run on the local ovals, those import manufacturers would have no incentive to participate in the local oval circuits but would have continued to build their road racing involvement.

              And now for something completely different.

              I also think open wheel oval racing would be stronger. I think the rise of non-open wheel cars on local ovals was significantly aided by Indy's presence. With its growing importance, Indy also created a growing barrier between local racing and the big time. Without a big time single event, there would have been more grassroots driven series development, a much less intimidating prospect.

              Originally posted by Racewriter:
              <STRONG>OK, now for some questions for those who believe that the European model might have become dominant here, if Indy had gone away:

              1. Would Americans then be driving Hillmans instead of Hudsons, or Ford Populars instead of Fairlanes?

              2. Would fairgrounds ovals have been bulldozed and replaced with road courses? Further, would cow pastures throughout the country be peppered with road courses?

              3. Would the SCCA have let Joe Sixpack in without a "sponsor"?

              4. Would road racing have paid cash purses at every race, even local ones?

              5. Further, would the SCCA have created large, accessible classes which could be filled by readily available junkyard automobiles, cheaply?

              Bottom line - you can't divorce American consumer tastes, and the American automobile industry, from American racing. JMO, of course, I welcome constructive debate...</STRONG>
              Peter Olivola ([email protected])
              "Too dumb for opera
              too smart for NASCAR"

              Comment


              • #8
                I disagree with your conclusion about NASCAR becoming dominant earlier. Without Indy, those participants in the SCCA's TransAm series, which, in the era from the mid 60's to early '70's overshadowed NASCAR nationally, would not have been drawn off as readily.

                When you put a change in play, you have to consider all the factors. In this case, NASCAR would not have been working in a vacume of other racing any more than it actually did and many of those who were subsequently drawn to Indy would have been doing something else. Being less regionally oriented, other forms of racing could easily have become big enough to keep their interest long before NASCAR achieved critical mass.

                Originally posted by hdolan:
                <STRONG>My take is this. Indianapolis was THE payday. Without it I simply cannot see a strong open wheel series. Futhermore, the TV money started to flow in the 50's. I honestly cannot remember any racing on TV outside of closed circuit and tape delay of Indianapolis in the 60's.

                Had there been no Indianapolis, NASCAR, in my opinion, would have become the dominant form of racing much earlier than it did. It was already quite successful in the South by the mid 50's, more so than open wheel in other parts of the country even with its tie to Indy.

                Please understand that when I talk of open wheel, I'm speaking of Big Cars, Champ Cars, or Indy Cars...</STRONG>
                Peter Olivola ([email protected])
                "Too dumb for opera
                too smart for NASCAR"

                Comment


                • #9
                  "Being less regionally oriented, other forms of racing could easily have become big enough to keep their interest long before NASCAR achieved critical mass."

                  Although "stock car" racing is viewed as a southern thing, and rightfully so to a great degree, it was also alive and well in all parts of the country, particularly on the West Coast...see Troy Ruttman et al...

                  The 1953-1954 Mexican Road Race featured a Lincoln Team which included Bill Vukovich, Jack McGrath, Clay Smith, Walt Faulkner and Chuck Stevenson. Obviously Detroit was dumping cash into the stockers in all venues.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The absence of Indy would have done little to impact the evolution of NASCAR or road racing in my opinion.

                    NASCAR succeeded because of a single, dominant personality that ran the organization as a benevolent dictator. The series benefitted from having a wide range of local racing that was quickly "branded" under the NASCAR umbrella (feeder series providing both drivers and fans), and from rules that provided both the stability and the product showcase that benefitted American manufacturers (who really had no other racing forum at the time). NASCAR's concentrated geographic base also happened to closely mirror many of the largest (and thus most important) manufacturer sales areas during its early years.

                    Road racing on the other hand, was for many years considered an elitist, rich man's social activity, with little relevance to the prioritiues (or products) of American auto manufacturers. Save for the occasional foray by Corvette, and the specially built Cad powered or Shelby "specials", there was nothing to interest the US manufacturers.

                    Add to that the fact that the SCCA was essentially a club organization bound by tradition and local politics, and the result was involvement by American manufacturers was looked down upon by the SCCA powers when compared to involvement by British Leyland (MG, Triumph, Jaguar, etc.) and Porsche, to name but a few. American cars simply didn't have the panache, and weren't looked upon as "worthy competitors".

                    Even after the development of Pro road racing with both SCCA and IMSA, the question of rules stability and the management of American manufacturer involvment became the big issues preventing widespread acceptance of the series by the public. The American manufacturers (and to some degree the involvement of foreign manufacturers like Audi, Toyota, and Porsche) moved their teams back and forth between SCCA and IMSA series frequently, depending on which sanctioning body was giving them the best rules to work with for the season. When the manufacturers moved, so did their advertising and PR dollars, meaning that one year IMSA was the series being heavily promoted to the public while the next year it was SCCA.... a very confusing situation for the uninformed public. This made it hard for either series to develop a large stable base of "new" fans, as most new fans were drawn in by the manufacturer involvement, and followed their "favorite" to whichever race they competed in without regards to series.

                    My point here is that NASCAR succeeded because of some key elements outside of anything to do with Indy... just as road racing has limited its own success due to key elements in its management that have nothing to do with Indy. In my opinion, Indy or not, little would have changed in the development of either NASCAR or road racing in the US.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I think it would be at least POSSIBLE to have significant OW racing in the U.S. without the Indy500. But it would hinge on getting manufacturers (Ford, Toyota, etc.) to ante up significant finanical support. And they would have to perceive OW racing to offer a decent ROI first.

                      The European OW racing scene (F1, F3000, F3) has evolved past racing for purses. In fact, outside of TV money and travel reimbursements that are loosely coupled with team performance, I don't think there IS prize money in F1 anymore.

                      The Indy PAYDAY is only about $1.8 million. The real value to teams is exposure for sponsors.

                      I don't expect the Indy500 to be alone sufficient to sustain manufacturer support in any OW series in the long-term. If you look at the BIG single-day or short-term sporting events (with the exception of the NFL Super Bowl) over the past decase, they've all shown a marked drop in TV ratings. I don't expect the Indy500 to dodget that bullet regardless of who shows up.

                      What OW in the USA really needs is a ladder of series that is compatible with what is offered overseas a la Formula Lotus/Renault, F3, F3000, etc. Without this FISA "lingua franca" - it's hard for any global corporation interested in motorsports sponsorship to seriously consider a large investment in the U.S.A.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        "The absence of Indy would have done little to impact the evolution of NASCAR or road racing in my opinion. "

                        I think the absence of Indy simply would have sped up the NASCAR evolution.

                        "The Indy PAYDAY is only about $1.8 million. The real value to teams is exposure for sponsors."

                        True, but compare the Indy paydays of the 50's with those of other tracks...also, recall the lack of sponsor decals on the cars of those days...Indy was the cash cow...

                        [ January 15, 2002: Message edited by: hdolan ]

                        [ January 15, 2002: Message edited by: hdolan ]

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I'm too young (26) to have seen much of the early changes with my own eyes, but here is the question I thought of on this topic:

                          How much of a role did the size and layout of IMS play in the evolution of the sport?

                          It seems to me that at 2.5 miles, the track was significantly larger than anything else out there, and its long, sweeping turns required a totally different type of car and driving style to go fast. (Hence the need for IMS to have its own "Rookie Orientation" for those that had never raced there before.)

                          It has always seemed to me that IMS relies more on "driving skills" than "oval racing skills." The key to being fast at IMS is to be smooth, while the key to being fast on a bullring is to wring as much out of your car as possible.

                          This is also why a "road racing" car goes faster than an "oval racing" car at the place. (And there was the associated "invasion" of rear engined road racing cars and their road racing drivers.)

                          If you were to start with a blank sheet of paper and design a car that would go as fast as possible at Indy, you'd probably come up with something that looks fairly similar to what runs there today.

                          If you were to start with a blank sheet of paper and design a car that would go as fast as possible at Richmond (or Phoenix or Milwaukee for that matter) you'd get something very much different. (I'm guessing something like a WOO car)

                          If you were to go for the fastest road racer possible, a car that is quite similar to the "Indianapolis car" but with a heck of a lot more wing. (Basically, a F1 car)

                          Without Indy, we'd have the "segregation" that was talked about in the other thread. (oval racers in one place, road racers in another, and very little "mixing" between them) Personally, I think that would be unfortunate.

                          I always thought that while F1 cars had the most tecnhology, and NASCAR looked just like something I could buy (up until the Lumina was introduced) it was much harder (and more interesting) to design, build, and drive a good car that could race at Indy, Phoenix, Long Beach and Road America.

                          So, my conclusion is this:
                          Without Indy, we wouldn't have had the "integration" of racing formulas. Whether that is good or bad, depends on your perspective.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Fueler, you've completely ignored the TransAm from 1965 to about 1972. In addition to its elitist bearing, SCCA sanctioned (still does, albeit a different animal) the most popular nationaly oriented closed wheel racing series that included full factory efforts from Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Mercury, Plymouth, Dodge and AMC. These were hardly elitist undertakings and occured at the same time the club moved away from its closed membership regime not coincidentally.

                            Originally posted by Fueler:
                            <STRONG>Road racing on the other hand, was for many years considered an elitist, rich man's social activity, with little relevance to the prioritiues (or products) of American auto manufacturers. Save for the occasional foray by Corvette, and the specially built Cad powered or Shelby "specials", there was nothing to interest the US manufacturers.</STRONG>
                            Peter Olivola ([email protected])
                            "Too dumb for opera
                            too smart for NASCAR"

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              "How much of a role did the size and layout of IMS play in the evolution of the sport?"

                              Qute a lot, equipment wise...consider this...the 1952 winner was your basic dirt car...the change was being made however to the roadster...

                              [ January 15, 2002: Message edited by: hdolan ]

                              Comment

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