Friday, May 9, 2008

Indy Pole Day united

The excitement for Pole Day at Indianapolis used to rival the race itself. The drama on Bump Day was even more spectacular.

But qualifying hasn’t meant much since 1994 Indy 500 champ Al Unser Jr. failed to make the race in 1995. The devastating failure sucked even more because the IRL formed in ’96 and CART drivers such as Unser were barred from the race. To put that into perspective, just imagine the shock and disappointment if Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t make the Daytona 500.

Since 1996, there haven’t been enough cars qualifying to cast any doubt that a driver or team would make the race. During some years, the IRL had to supply money and cars to eager drivers just to get the 33-car field full.

Then the defunct CART series began invading. It started with Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Vasser in 2000. Montoya won the race and bolted for F1 the next year. Helio Castro-Neves won back-to-back races the following years (although the IRL robbed Paul Tracy of victory in 2003). By then, most of CART’s powerhouse teams had defected to IRL, but something was still missing.

Could the reunification of the IndyCar Series and ChampCars signal an open-wheel resurgence at Indy? A few drivers have created enough intrigue to stir a few story lines in the month of May. Danica got her first win and Graham Rahall exceeded expectations by winning in just his second race.

Here’s hoping Indy qualifying roars back to life. We’ll find out Saturday afternoon when the cars take the track for time trials. Unless, of course, it rains.


Brant said...

It's amazing how things have changed over the past couple of decades. The Indy 500 was once "THE EVENT" of all auto racing. Nothing NASCAR offered, not even Daytona, could come close to competing with it. Now, not only do people not watch the 500, they don't even care who wins it, unless it's Danica Patrick.

Mike Jones said...

I agree, and it's a shame because the 2006 race was quite possibly the best race I've ever seen. Horish edged Marco Andretti for the win. That Memorial Day Sunday is still my favorite day in racing. They used to start around 11 a.m., so you'd watch the 500 and when it finished you could grab dinner. Let that settle for a little bit and turn on the tube for the rest of the night to watch the COKE 600 at Charlotte.