At the New York Times' Wheels blog, Jerry Garrett offers a quietly disturbing account of the events leading up to Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon's death in a horrific multi-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway yesterday. The short version is that the racers were worried, even fearful, about the track and the setup for the race, which had been designed to conclude the IndyCar season with a bang.
It's only a matter of time before the spotlight falls square on the decisionmaking of IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. This is a guy who was a former bull riding promoter, brought over to IndyCar to inject some life into a moribund open-wheel racing series, where the marquee event is the Indianapolis 500 and everything else is an afterthought.
Clearly, an injection of life wasn't what the racing world got yesterday, as too many cars went too fast on a small track, leading to the carnage that killed Wheldon and ended both the IndyCar season and superstar racer Danica Patrick's open-wheel career on a very somber note. (Patrick is moving to NASCAR full-time next season.)
ESPN.com's Terry Blount quoted Bernard prior to the race, on the question of why IndyCar was struggling to turn out NASCAR-szie crowds. These are not the comments of a man who's happy with the business he's running:
"I think some of you are going to be surprised at the crowd you see," Bernard said. "But after this race is over, we will make a list of what we did right, what we did wrong and go forward."
Did the best drivers in IndyCar have any business roaring around a snug track at 220 mph, in a field that was too large for the venue? Clearly, the nightmare scenario that had been speculated on beforehand — what some drivers said was the worst crash they'd ever seen — was the result. Not the thrilling showcase that Bernard had planned.
Motorsport is inherently dangerous. Everyone knows this. But in recent decades, it's become safer. For the business side to cavalierly override those advances shows that IndyCar needs a change at the top, as well as more changes on the track. I wouldn't expect Randy Bernard to make it to next season. Maybe he can go back to managing cowboys and bulls in the ring, rather than putting more drivers at risk in high-speed Hail Marys to salvage a sport that deserves better.