Wednesday, June 28, 2006

IROC

For the first time in what seems like forever, the IROC (International Race of Champions) series took a step in the right direction this year. I haven't even caught the first two races this season, and more likely than not, even if you're a race fan, neither have you. But I will make a vague attempt to check out tommorrow's race, as it will be a long overdue road course event. Granted, they're holding it on Daytona's road course, but it's still better than nothing.

I seriously cann't understand what must be going through the heads of the people who run this series. It started out as a simple, yet great idea. Obvious, but still great. "Why don't we get all the top drivers from different kinds of racing series and put them in equal cars on different tracks, and see who comes out on top?"

Of course, over the years, the series has seen a steady decline in its standards. First it seemed like the "International" part of IROC disappeared. Then went the different tracks. It was all oval racing, which heavily favors the NASCAR drivers. Then it pretty much became an almost all-NASCAR field. Hell, the "Champions" part wound up being just a technicality too.

IROC is a failure because it doesn't deliver on its promise. The cars are slightly fancier looking stock cars like what you have in NASCAR. The tracks are all NASCAR tracks, and all the high speed high banked ovals. They couldn't even manage variety in that. That's not a fair test of skill. It's boring. I'll give that it would be too expensive to prep up different kinds of cars for different races (stock car one, indy car the next), but at least put some variety in the tracks to even things out! Maybe then some of the drivers from series that race on road courses will be more willing to participate. As it stands, two of the races are on ovals configured exactly the same (Texas and Atlanta.)

If I were in charge of IROC, I'd push for variety to test who was the best overall. I would keep Daytona, because restrictor plate racing is a valid challenge to skilled drivers, and it is exciting to watch when set up properly. I'd even keep Texas or Atlanta, because unrestricted oval racing is good too. Then, I would add a road race at a genuine road course. After that, I'd put them on a short dirt track. That way different drivers with different strengths would each get their chance to shine. If possible to add more dates, or if schedules conflict, an IROC race at Bristol would be a crazy thing to see, and a good replacement for the dirt track. Hell, even a drag racing event would be interesting.

As for drivers, they need to get a handle on the NASCAR thing. In tommorrow's race, 4 of the 12 drivers are from NASCAR Nextel Cup, another is from the Busch series (but now races in cup), yet one more is from the truck series, and a 7th driver is from the ARCA series, which might as well be NASCAR. 7 of the 12 drivers, more than half the field, are representing essentially the same style of racing. It shows in the point standings. The top 6 drivers are from that style.

There's a reason nobody from CART, and certainly nobody from Europe race in the series anymore. And the tired excuse of "scheduling conflicts" doesn't cut it. Not year after year.

So I'm hoping that someone running the series realized the problem and are working to fix it, starting with this race on the Daytona roadcourse. Whether they take any more steps to fix things will likely determine whether there is even an IROC series to compete in the coming years. I truly hope they do, because when they were doing it right, it could be damn interesting, and damn fun to watch.

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