Not the Kind of Attention We Need

Not the Kind of Attention We Need

- in Latest News, Rants and Raves

The fallout continues from the nuclear explosion in IndyCar yesterday. Our survey of various blogs, web sites and Twitter tells us that many race fans were as confused as we were by the ruling that Helio had blocked Will Power while leading at the end of the race at Edmonton City Center Airport/Raceway.

We kept reading and digging last night, trying to understand why we could not see the block that caused the league to penalize Helio with a drive through (that he did not answer.) When we saw the video below, shared by our good Aussie pal @shagers among others, we learned that we were looking at the wrong thing. We were watching how Helio and Will were racing each other and not their actual physical location on the track. Helio and Will remained in the right lane for quite a while down the straight, then Will zipped over to the left, where all the other cars were and where everyone was supposed to be racing. Helio stayed in the right lane all the way down the straight. You could only use that lane to pass, which Helio was not doing because he was in the lead. Helio did not block in the classic “chop across the front wings” sense but he defended, which was also not allowed as described in the drivers’ meeting. Here’s an explanation of the rule and its application:

After we saw this, we understood that the rule had been applied as it was promised it would be. We feel badly for Helio, but it was clear he did not follow the rule. We also feel badly that the sport is wearing a big ugly shiner for this, caused by a preventable lack of transparency.

First of all – the rule. It never occurred to us you wouldn’t use a big, wide tarmac or runway to its fullest. Between watching online, on TV and following Twitter simultaneously, and not having any control over TV camera angles, we don’t often see the action from the same angle with enough repetition to pick up on all the driving lines, etc. It’s far easier to see that sort of thing when you are at the track and can linger in a spot for a while. So we didn’t notice that the cars were all following the same path on that spot of the track.

Our assumption is that the “lane restrictions” we heard about yesterday would be used to impose a modicum of order – say, to prevent the entirety of KV Racing from going seven-wide with three other cars and giving @jimmyvasser yet another heart attack. We would like to see something a bit more open – at the least, it would be great if a driver could defend their position to a degree. And it might render races like Edmonton more interesting than the usual parade. We’re willing to concede those trade-offs may not be worth the carnage, but we’d like to see it open up somehow.

The bigger problem is that this rule was news to us. Hey, we’re into this sport and have been for a long time. We spend time on it, trying to stay up to date with the news. If we didn’t know about it, chances are pretty awesome that many other race fans didn’t, either.

We frequently hear the media comment on going below the white line during qualifying at certain tracks, and we know the penalty for that is starting from the back of the field because the media report that to us. But we don’t recall the media reporting on these other “rules of the road” prior to a race. We wish they would, for two reasons. One, it would add a level of interest and strategy to the race – something to watch for.  And two, if something like the Helio penalty happens, we would understand immediately that it wasn’t a blown call or a conspiracy – it was a rules violation. Then we could spend our time arguing that the rule is too controlling instead of thinking that our Chief Steward is incompetent or unethical.

And that’s our biggest fear. There are plenty of race fans out there who don’t have the time or the inclination to dig a little and try to understand what happened. They don’t know the rule and they didn’t see a big chop or line correction on Helio’s part, so they think the league is run by chimps or that Barnhart’s pockets must be full of bribes. That is THE FASTEST WAY to lose fans. If they think there’s no chance for fairness or something of a level playing field when it comes to officiating, they will be gone. Many of the comments we read yesterday are communicating this very thing – the opinion that the sport is rigged or amateurish in its operation. Those fans won’t be sticking around for the explanation and a chance to rethink. And we wonder how many folks out there didn’t comment or tweet, but had the same response. It concerns us that we probably lost a good number of folks on this when we really need to maximize our chances to communicate the idea that our form of racing is compelling and legitimate.

Another unfortunate twist is that this happened to Helio. IndyCar has a tough time getting the attention of mainstream media, but with Helio’s celebrity and loads of adoring non-racing fans, this story is playing in lots of markets it would not normally.  People who might get around to checking out a race if they get time – just to see how Helio’s doing – might be put off by this. “It’s rigged.” “They’re not fair to my cute little happy Brazilian dancing driver.” The damage from this incident has the potential to be broad.

We’re hoping that the media will always be invited to the drivers’ meeting and encouraged to report on that race’s rules and areas of emphasis. They could easily make the rules for that race a part of the prerace coverage  – would take about 15 seconds to remind viewers that the track was divided, etc. Streaming the drivers’ meeting live online would be a great move – the media, IndyCar bloggers and interested fans could see for themselves. And we could then decide for ourselves how consistently rules are applied during a race.

We hope the league is considering ways to be more open about the rules of engagement BEFORE incidents like this happen – it’s a preemptive strike in their favor and could help mitigate some of the damage from this particular event.

Okay, we think we’re done being serious for a while – gotta find a way back to the fun! Thanks for reading.