I picked up a report on the Internet last week, attributed to one Ed McFarlane. It is reputedly from the Indiana Highway Patrol, and here is an abbreviated and edited version:
The Indiana Highway Patrol (IHP) is investigating a daring daylight robbery that occurred during the Indy 500. It was reported that a Canadian visitor to the Speedway was robbed of victory in front of 400,000 witnesses. The perpetrator made a clean getaway, despite having almost no fuel in his car.
"It seems that the Canadian gentleman was hit by a yellow flag," said a spokesman for the IHP. "IRL officials assaulted him with it, and in the confusion a young Brazilian in a red-and-white car staged his getaway and won the race."
At this point investigators are looking into a mysterious figure known as "The Captain," aged about 65, with thinning silver hair, and known to favor Marlboro cigarettes. Fortunately, there were a large number of witnesses to the robbery, unlike most IRL races, where almost no one would have been on hand. On the bright side, IHP Lost-and-Found office was able to reunite a Mr. de Ferran from Brazil with a rear wheel, which he left behind in the pits.
But seriously, folks, it was a darn good race up to that point. I wonder if the ruling would have been the same had it been an IRL regular overtaking a CART driver. And if NASCAR had been running the show, would we have seen a red flag in order to stage a racing finish?
At least they would have been able to race back to the yellow. Of course, running under CART rules with mandated pit stop windows, the issue probably wouldn't have come up. Oh, well? As the old saying goes, "it's better to be lucky than good."
A sidebar at Indy was Honda's announcement that it would build engines for the IRL's 2003 season, as well as signing a three-year contract for the IRL to race at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi track in Japan. It will be the IRL's first foray outside the United States. It's a strange reversal for Honda, who previously said it had no interest in building a low-tech normally aspirated motor when CART finally announced that its 2003 engine rules would be similar to the IRL formula.
Additionally, it appears that IRL will add Lola chassis to its mix in 2003, along with Dallara and Gforce. IRL's "non-compete" rule means that Lola can't build chassis for CART, and with manufacturer Reynard in receivership, that leaves CART with no chassis suppliers. CART has frozen current chassis rules for 2003, ensuring that there will at least be a supply of year-old cars for competition.
Tony George has spent untold millions bolstering the IRL for the past five years, and with these most recent moves, it is starting to look like he's on the verge of reaching his main goal -- destroying CART.
Of course, he had a lot of help in the effort from CART board members and CEO's, who ran around acting like the "Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight." Chris Pook has come in with some tremendous ideas to improve CART's racing show, but is he trying to resuscitate a corpse? The number of CART regulars recently dropped to 19 with the withdrawal of Oriol Servia's team. Contracts with promoters are now in jeopardy, as many of them are tied to the magic number of 20 entries. It looks like the Open Wheel war in U.S. racing is all but over, and IRL has won.
Of course, looking at the Indy 500 lineup at the start of the race, it is apparent that George's publicly stated goal of helping young drivers from American open wheel racing achieve star status hasn't materialized. The Indy field was filled with Brazilians, former Formula One drivers, and just about everything but young Americans who learned their trade in sprint cars and midgets. If you want to find those guys, check out a NASCAR Busch or Winston Cup roster.
I'm sure that Mark Martin's win in the Coca Cola Family 600 helped team owner Jack Roush in his rehabilitation from injuries received in a plane crash. Roush had indicated that he wanted to be at the Dover race this weekend, and I'm sure Martin's Charlotte performance win will redouble his determination to do so.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motor sports columnist