Start your engines!
Play RPM.ESPN Stock Car Challenge!
Win a Honda S2000!
Play The CART Challenge powered by Honda!
Sunday, April 29
The writing was on the wall long ago
By Robin Miller
FORT WORTH, Texas In its 22 years, Championship Auto Racing Teams has been described as a lot of things. Greedy, self-serving and irrational are the most frequent but it added a new one here this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
How so you say? Because, with just a few strokes of the brush, CART managed to paint itself into the darkest, dumbest corner of its often-turbulent existence.
CART shouldn't be crucified for canceling Sunday's Firestone Firehawk 600 because, unlike another well-known sanctioning body in this country, it actually listens to its drivers and values their well-being.
Safety got the nod over The Show and nobody should have a problem with that.
But CART does need to be persecuted for the totally unprofessional way it went about approaching this race.
It started when then CEO Bobby Rahal cut a deal with his old buddy, Eddie Gossage (the TMS general manager) to run the 1.5-mile high banks before the membership embraced that idea and, more importantly, before any test could be run with a CART car.
The rival Indy Racing League has run speeds up to 225 mph at Texas during the past five years and just about everyone in CART was concerned about the speeds since champ cars have 300 more horsepower than IRL engines.
"This is a bad deal, we all agree, but we should have never been here in the first place," said Jimmy Vasser, the '96 CART champion. "To be running 235 mph on a one-and-a-half mile track is an area we've never been in.
"But, c'mon, this shouldn't have surprised anybody."
Rahal, who ironically missed his first CART race in 20 years because he was at the Spanish Grand Prix running the Jaguar Formula One program, needs to take some responsibility but not all of it.
His fellow owners voted 22-2 last year to add Texas to the schedule. But, if they felt any trepidation about the speeds, it certainly wasn't evident since they only had a couple of cars test prior to this past weekend.
Kenny Brack ran 50 laps last December at 218 and Dario Franchitti topped 228 last February but there was no organized open CART test and no chance to discover potential problems.
"When you test by yourself, you can't simulate what it's going to be like with 26 other cars on the track," said Michael Andretti, CART's all-time winner. "We'd never experienced the G-loading we did this weekend and we would have been running faster in the race than we qualified.
"That would have been a problem in the race."
Andretti didn't mention that besides being dizzy and disoriented, his fellow competitors had virtually no peripheral vision or reaction time at those speeds.
CART's vice president of competition, Kirk Russell, attempted to put a Band-Aid on this problem Saturday night by asking the teams to take a little downforce out of the rear wing and a little horsepower out of the engines.
But it was way too little, too late. When the first few laps turned Friday morning were already over 232 mph, Russell needed to act immediately. Call the engineers, manufacturers and drivers together and try to formulate a plan.
Sure, it may not have mattered, but it would have looked a helluva lot more proactive and professional than waiting until the night before the race!
As it stands this morning, it's another black eye for a series that needs to look for a sunglasses company as series sponsor. Brazil got canceled in March and now Texas. Toyota is going to the IRL in 2003 and CART still has no new engine formula or television contract.
It sure didn't make them any fans in Texas and it's doubtful any relationship with track owner Bruton Smith can be salvaged.
From a public relations standpoint, it was a disaster and CART will rightfully get hammered by the motorsports media for a few days.
Of course it would have been even more irresponsible to race Sunday afternoon and take somebody's life. Nobody died and CART did the right thing for its drivers.
But that's the only smart thing it did all weekend. Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
|By canceling the Firehawk 600 at the last minute, CART did not endear themselves to Texas fans.|