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Race Relations - December 2006 Detonation

Hear Bob Work, See Bob Think, Watch Bob Run, Read Bob's Column

Dec 1, 2006

Have I mentioned that I'm a racing fan?

For my money, not much is more relaxing than getting up on a Sunday morning (sometimes way too early), planting myself in front of the tube, and watching an entire day of racecar drama. If network schedules align, sometimes I can catch 7 hours or more of coverage in a single sitting. I've been doing it for so long, and with such selfish zeal, it amazes me my wife hasn't left me yet.

I'm pretty sure I've brought up the vice in Detonation before, and a small part of me is a little disappointed in myself for loving it so much. To me TV, or more specifically the vast majority of programming on TV, has always been utter crap, which led me to the belief early in life that generally the medium isn't worth my time. However, the particular brain drain of watching motorsports, in addition to its innate excitement, can also be both therapy and inspiration for yours truly.

With my last few columns focused primarily on explaining HT's future and other miscellanea, I feel like I haven't had the chance in a while to reflect on the intriguing developments that have piqued my interest as I camped out in front of the idiot box this past race season. It's been gnawing at my noggin'. Herewith, then, are a couple of the more salient story lines:

Have They Gotten to First Base Yet?

It's no secret that after an ugly breakup and years of animosity, the two biggest open-wheel series in North America, the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series, appear to be mending fences. As of this dispatch there has been news of only very preliminary talks between Champ Car's Kevin Kalkhoven and the IRL's Tony George, but the baby steps are significant and set the imagination ablaze. Word was even circulating recently that there could be double-header events as soon as 2007 (although those rumors seem to be only that right now, rumors).

However the union happens, my gut feeling is that it can only be good for open-wheel racing. Just in terms of money, it seems to make greater financial sense for the two currently floundering groups to share resources and revenues rather than compete against one another. The success of that economic model, though, depends on the assumption that fans will be interested, and that may be a little harder to stimulate.

Since the Indy League split from CART in '94, both organizations have very publicly struggled for myriad reasons to get people watching. The notion that there was enough fan support to sustain twice as many open-wheeler series simply didn't pan out, particularly given the strong attraction of NASCAR in the last decade. Reunification could potentially re-create the sizable bloc of enthusiasts that existed in Champ Car's heyday, and maybe even pull some of those stock car guys, too. But it'll take some slick marketing.

That pitch to racing enthusiasts will rely almost entirely on how the new, reunified series is packaged and sold. There are a couple of different ways things could turn out, but personally, I'm looking for only two criteria:

Exciting racing - that is, racing with passing. If there's one complaint I keep hearing about Formula 1 competition, it's that there are rarely ever position changes after the race starts. Some of that is the track and what it can accommodate, but the issue also has to do with vehicle dynamics. The NASCAR boys draft, and Champ drivers have the Power-To-Pass. A method to insure close races clearly needs to be a part of the new league's formula (no pun intended).

Honda's involvement, whether as the sole engine manufacturer or as one supplier of many to the entire series. I'm indifferent as to how built the engines should come, just so long as the big H is in the mix.

Now make it happen, guys.

So Long, Monkey
Happy birthday, Jenson Button. It took the British driver 113 tries before he was able to score his first victory in F1, and it couldn't have come in more dramatic fashion, in the wet on a Hungaroring that had gobbled up several other top drivers. Dogged for years of not being able to seal up a first triumph, homeboy finally got that proverbial monkey off his back. Perhaps more importantly, though, the W returns manufacturer Honda to the Formula 1 winner's circle, a place it hasn't been since the late '60s.

It would probably be foolish to infer anything further from the success, except that nearly everyone in the Honda F1 camp seems to believe this is the start of the team's changed fortunes. I'm sure the completion of the team's wind tunnel this year went far to give them the confidence that they can maintain a competitive advantage. One hopes this is indeed the beginning of great things for Honda, but we shall see.

The Winter Issue Finally, an explanation of our "Winter" issue. It's not really a winter issue, per se, because there's not really a seasonal theme to the mag. Rather, this is the issue that will, for now, replace the November and December issues, part of our larger plan to keep HT on newsstands longer. I know, you're asking yourself, won't that make for fewer issues annually? Well, yes, but that is part of the sacrifice we had to make in order to keep our issues available to the uninitiated buying public.

So we're gonna camp out on the newsstand a few more weeks to give everyone a chance to find us. Apologies to our subscribers. I'll see if I can't get my puppeteers to give me a few more pages and bump up our Honda goodness in future issues.

See ya' next time - BH

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