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The Callahan Report: The Feud Between CART and The IRL Is Over

21 August 1997

INDIANAPOLIS: I read many racing stories. I listen to a great deal of racing commentary. Sometimes my eyes literally hurt from rolling so far back in my head after hearing or reading opinions which differ from my own. Every so often I get to the point where I have to speak my mind on certain subjects in racing instead of just reporting the news. This is one of those times.

The Problem:
There are two major open wheel racing series in the United States. They are known as CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) and the IRL (Indy Racing League). Questions and comments continue concerning the feud between the two series'. The majority of the comments come from the press. It is time for media professionals to understand there is no feud. There is, however, a rivalry for market share.

The CART Background:
CART was formed in 1979 by racing teams and owners who were disgruntled with USAC (United States Auto Club). USAC, the sanctioning body for major open wheel series events such as the Indy 500. The owners formed CART in an effort to take control of their own destiny and to make the sport better for fans and teams alike. The newly formed racing series struggled in the early going. By The late 1980's, the CART series was a successful booming business.

The face of open wheel racing changed as a result of CART's success. The organization discovered quickly the high profit margins available in street course racing. These "tracks" were already built all across the country. All that was needed were a few concrete barricades, some fencing, rented grandstands, and viola... we have a race track. Cities across the country were more than happy to host these street course events after looking at the potential "visitor" dollars to be spent in their communities. In a short time, the series went from nearly all oval permanent racing tracks to mostly temporary street courses.

Another change occurred during the 80's. Cost of technology began to skyrocket. CART had no rules in place to control the costs. With the national rate of inflation running in single digits, the rate of inflation for running a racing team increased 20 to 40 percent per year during the late 1980's.

By the end of the decade, it took more than talent to race in the CART series. Teams needed a driver who was a good speaker and salesperson if they were to land the big name sponsors required to fund their multi-million dollar racing teams. No funding. If a team's driver was not the best of speakers, he or she had damn well better be a proven winner. (Race winners get more TV time for their sponsor's logos). If the driver does not possess speaking qualities or talent, he must bring big sponsorship money to the series (the rich uncle syndrome).

The IRL Background (Short and Sweet):
Enter the traditionalists. In the same manner CART was formed in 1979, there were powerful individuals in the racing community troubled with the way open wheel racing was being run. In 1995, the IRL was formed with a mission. The League wanted to get back to the grass roots of open wheel racing. The series would feature all oval racing with an added twist. There were strict rules on how much a team could spend on an engine and chassis.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, Tony George, was the lead man in the formation of the IRL. The crowned jewel of racing, The Indianapolis 500, was now part of the IRL schedule.

The Feud:
The first IRL season came quick. There was not enough time to build new chassis and engines. The teams would run the same equipment as CART during the initial IRL season. This posed a dangerous situation for the IRL. The League wanted to ensure the success of their new racing series. They had to find a way to entice teams to participate in the entire series....not just the Indy 500. Under existing rules, both CART and IRL teams could participate in the Indianapolis 500. The League did not want to see the CART teams come to Indy with a "take the money and run" philosophy. The big blow to CART came when the Indy Racing League ruled that twenty-five starting positions for the Indianapolis 500 would be held for IRL regulars (teams that ran all IRL races). The remaining eight spots in the field would be open for "at large" or CART participants. The so-called feud had begun. The IRL had thrown the first punch.

There were two races in 1996 prior to the Indianapolis 500. There were no conflicting racing dates between the two series'. CART teams could have participated in those two events, earning IRL points and guaranteeing themselves spots in the Indianapolis 500. In a stand of solidarity, the CART teams refused to participate. All but two CART teams boycotted the 1996 Indianapolis 500. CART had returned the punch.

Why The Feud Is Over:
Much of the racing press still refers to the two series' as "feuding." The fight ended with the 1996 racing season. The Indy Racing League unveiled its new racing equipment at the Walt Disney World 200 in January 1997. The IRL cars have a similar look to the cars in the CART series. The similarities are in looks only. The engines in the IRL are normally aspirated vs. turbo charged in CART. There is a specific dollar amount ($75,000) a team can pay for an engine in the IRL. CART has no such limits. A rolling chassis in the IRL can cost no more than $275,000. In CART, a chassis costs nearly a half a million dollars for a production model. There is even one team that designs and builds their own chassis at a higher cost (due to limited production).

These are only a couple of examples of the differences between CART and the IRL. The fact is, these racing series' are as different as Winston Cup cars and NASCAR's Craftsman Trucks. There are two totally separate rule books.....they are two totally separate products.

If you are a racing fan who enjoys a mix of open wheel road racing with some short and high speed ovals thrown in... CART is the obvious choice. If you are more "oval oriented" and like high speed open wheel action, then the IRL should be the series of choice. If you are a race junkie like myself, then you have four VCR's running on Saturday and Sunday trying to keep up with all the action.

It's like going to the store, folks. We have many similar products to choose from. As for me, when there are several products, one as good as the other, I use them all. The nice thing about this "racing product" is, you can use competitor's products concurrently. It is time to stop calling the CART/IRL split a "feud" or "fight." The battle ended in January of this year. What we have now is not a feud.... It is simply a new product.

Don't Start My Engine,
Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel