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CART drivers in the '80s


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#1 ac_Masaryk

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 19:10

Can you explain me why the performances of some CART drivers declined so much at middle/late eighties?


The riders I talk are:

- AJ Foyt
- Tom Sneva
- Johnny Rutherford
- Gordon Johncock
- Johnny Parsons


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#2 stevewf1

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 19:20

I'd say age or injuries would be a factor.

Plus some of these guys (Rutherford, Johncock) weren't all that good at road/street courses anyway.



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Posted 26 August 2009 - 20:28

In Foyt's case, weight was also an issue.

#4 Disco Stu

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 20:44

It's pretty simple, they got old.

#5 Peter Leversedge

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 21:38

Its only a few years ago that Parsons was still racing Midgets and maybe Champ Dirt Cars
Foyt must have been some sort of a road racer, he won the 24 hr LeMans with Dan Gurney

#6 ensign14

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 21:47

Foyt was excellent in toto, he also had success in stock cars on road courses.

The question is in some ways the wrong way around. Why did drivers who were winning races in the 1960s still have success into the 1980s? Wasn't happening in F1. It shows just what a bad job sprintcars in the 1970s did of bringing Indycar drivers along. And Parsons never did anything of note in the champcar series, he was 0 for 138.


#7 DOF_power

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 21:58

Foyt was excellent in toto, he also had success in stock cars on road courses.

The question is in some ways the wrong way around. Why did drivers who were winning races in the 1960s still have success into the 1980s? Wasn't happening in F1. It shows just what a bad job sprintcars in the 1970s did of bringing Indycar drivers along. And Parsons never did anything of note in the champcar series, he was 0 for 138.




That's partially true. Another thing is F1 had higher G-forces witch took their toll on the human body.

#8 Jim Thurman

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Posted 27 August 2009 - 03:45

Several points/comments here...

Rutherford - was not bad at road racing.

Johncock - well...Gordon himself would probably be the first to tell you he was not a road racer.

Sneva - one could say he talked himself out of his career, but when the team he'd had his last good success with went away, it was down the ranks for him. Never perceived as a road racer either, the schedule skewing more that way also worked against him. He still got reasonably good cars for the '500'.

Foyt - Weight was not an issue with Foyt until after the injuries caught up with him.

Parsons - showed flashes of brilliance, but was with second line teams and second line is - for the most part - being generous.

And, there were few - if any - drivers with Sprint Car experience that moved into CART full time. Same applies to road racers that made it to CART in the same era...besides, if you were a car owner, would you go with experience or the untested? That was common until the marketeers took control.

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Posted 27 August 2009 - 08:01

I'm pretty sure Parsons was still winning Midget, Sprint and Championship Dirt Car races well into the nineties, perhaps even on pavement. He never got good rides in CART, that's all.

#10 ac_Masaryk

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 11:56

Several points/comments here...

Rutherford - was not bad at road racing.

Johncock - well...Gordon himself would probably be the first to tell you he was not a road racer.

Sneva - one could say he talked himself out of his career, but when the team he'd had his last good success with went away, it was down the ranks for him. Never perceived as a road racer either, the schedule skewing more that way also worked against him. He still got reasonably good cars for the '500'.

Foyt - Weight was not an issue with Foyt until after the injuries caught up with him.

Parsons - showed flashes of brilliance, but was with second line teams and second line is - for the most part - being generous.

And, there were few - if any - drivers with Sprint Car experience that moved into CART full time. Same applies to road racers that made it to CART in the same era...besides, if you were a car owner, would you go with experience or the untested? That was common until the marketeers took control.



- Rutherford seems the strangest case because he disappeared almost in a year.
- Johncock was the oldest, I think and really wasn't a good road race driver, as his performances show.
- Sneva seems to have some good rides till mid-80's. He disappeared when with Mike Curb, after many crashes at Indy 500. But he was still not too old I think
- Foyt had ups and downs after 1979. Maybe the car, or driving and ruling his own team?
- I made confusion with Parsons' from NASCAR

#11 Rainer Nyberg

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 12:19

Can you explain me why the performances of some CART drivers declined so much at middle/late eighties?


The riders I talk are:

- AJ Foyt
- Tom Sneva
- Johnny Rutherford
- Gordon Johncock
- Johnny Parsons


By the mid/late 80s AJ, Gordie and JR were way past their prime and all at an advanced age.
AJ was 45 entering the decade and 50yo by 1985.
JR was 47 in '85 and Johncock 48.

I don't recall any of them having a fulltime ride either by the late 80s.
AJ selected his races and the the other two did very few races in lesser teams.

We also have to remember that younger (hrm...Emmo was that young but pretty competent!) drivers from both US and elsewhere, were seriously entering the frame.

Sneva is a different matter as he was 10 years younger than JR, so he should have been able to extend his career, but he seemed just to fade away.



#12 RA Historian

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 14:31

Sneva is a different matter as he was 10 years younger than JR, so he should have been able to extend his career, but he seemed just to fade away.

Sneva was very, very good on the ovals, not so good on road courses. His last wins were with the one year only Mayer Motor Racing Team in 1984. He was with All American Racers in 1985, but they were working on brand new Eagles. Drove for Curb in 1986 and part of 1987 until fired. Used Marches. Could have been good, but Curb Racing never has been a top rung team. From '88 on Sneva kicked around a couple years with minor teams until he eventually moved into the broadcast booth.

One factor that I think runs through Sneva's whole CART career is that he seems to have had a propensity for talking himself out of rides.....

Tom

#13 ensign14

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 15:08

Sneva's problem was that he could never learn how to drive on road courses. There were quite a few on the schedule in the 60s and Foyt and others would also take part in NASCAR or USAC stock car races at places like Riverside. In the early 70s USAC in its infinite wisdom dropped the road courses entirely. By the time they were brought back Sneva had driven in 50 championship races, all on paved ovals.

Sneva though surely was not bad on road courses? A dozen top five finishes and a win at Caesar's Palace. It's a better record than many drivers' careers.

#14 RA Historian

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Posted 28 August 2009 - 15:51

Sneva though surely was not bad on road courses? A dozen top five finishes and a win at Caesar's Palace. It's a better record than many drivers' careers.

Granted. I was surprised, to say the least, when he won at Caesar's Palace in 1984. Didn't expect that, but Sneva surely was a racer. I also suspect that his performance on road courses was perhaps taken likely because of his exceptional prowess on oval tracks, especially the short ovals of Phoenix and Milwaukee where he won frequently.
Tom

#15 Jim Thurman

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 02:03

Sneva was very, very good on the ovals, not so good on road courses. His last wins were with the one year only Mayer Motor Racing Team in 1984. He was with All American Racers in 1985, but they were working on brand new Eagles. Drove for Curb in 1986 and part of 1987 until fired. Used Marches. Could have been good, but Curb Racing never has been a top rung team. From '88 on Sneva kicked around a couple years with minor teams until he eventually moved into the broadcast booth.

One factor that I think runs through Sneva's whole CART career is that he seems to have had a propensity for talking himself out of rides.....

Amazingly like what I wrote above ;)

There was a great article in Open Wheel in the late 90's. Sneva was brutal in his self-assessment and took complete blame for being too mouthy to Penske. He said he saw things Penske could improve on, and was vocal about it, but he didn't realize until he went to other teams that what Team Penske were weak at, they were still far better at than any other team.

Tom, thanks for adding the team details. I drew an utter blank in trying to think of Mayer's team.

Not to turn this into the Sneva thread, but he had likely never driven a front engined car until he got to the Midwest. His father built a crude rear engined Modified for him and then he drove a 4WD rear engined Super Modified with which he utterly dominated. The only possibility of him driving a front engined car before he got to the Midwest would be if he hot lapped brother Jerry's coupe.

He still turned in some impressive runs and qualifying at in later years at Indy, but often overdrove the cars and crashed. He shared that trait with Ongais.

And, yes, Sneva was one of the best on ovals. His ability in traffic was stunning. I guess all that short track oval racing in the Northwest was useful.

#16 Jim Thurman

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 02:10

Sneva's problem was that he could never learn how to drive on road courses. There were quite a few on the schedule in the 60s and Foyt and others would also take part in NASCAR or USAC stock car races at places like Riverside. In the early 70s USAC in its infinite wisdom dropped the road courses entirely. By the time they were brought back Sneva had driven in 50 championship races, all on paved ovals.

Sneva though surely was not bad on road courses? A dozen top five finishes and a win at Caesar's Palace. It's a better record than many drivers' careers.

Blame the tobacco money and USAC going along with it - a "manageable schedule". They dropped both the dirt miles and road courses for 1971 and attempted to set up separate championships for both. The road racing championship existed for one race only.

But a good point as far as Sneva's inability to gain experience. USAC wasn't running Stock Cars on road courses much by then either.

The Caesar's Palace course used by CART was far different from the F1 layout. At times, it was even called a "modified oval", with a kink and one very tight turn. Still, it required some heavy braking and shifting.

#17 Sisyphus

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 05:04

It shows just what a bad job sprintcars in the 1970s did of bringing Indycar drivers along.


Why is it that so few sprint and midget drivers made it into Indy cars in the 80's and 90's? Was it just an issue of not having funding or getting a decent ride?

It seems to me that the quick reactions and ability to race open wheeled cars really closely and big b**ls would be a good basic foundation for bigger cars. I realize an Indy car handles very differently and needs a smoothness that a sprint car on a halfmile dirt oval does not. I thought the common wisdom was that a fast but wild driver can be molded into a quick Indy driver easier and quicker than a rich but slow driver.

I asked Derek Walker more or less the same question once but he seemed to think 3rd world drivers of small engined formula cars with large bank balances were a better bet and fair enough if you are paying the bills, I guess.


#18 ensign14

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 07:16

I think the paradigm shift from upright front-engines to lying down rear-engines was too much for a sprint/midget driver, when you consider that they'd be up against people who had been brought up with the engines at the back. The one who did come up from that sort of a background in the 60s was Sneva, and as Jim pointed out Sneva barely touched front engines. Even his sprint car was rear-engined and he was in the champcar series when USAC, in its wisdom that is so infinite it transcends aleph-omega, banned them as well.

The thing with the Foyts and Johncocks of this world is they moved to rear engines at the same time as everyone else was. They were all learning together. There was no in-built advantage for anyone having driven that sort of car for a number of years beforehand.

It's certainly not lack of talent that stopped the crossover. People like Bigelow were beating the Foyts on dirt in the 1970s. And when you compare how Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon from that background did in NASCAR right from the off with how Franchitti and Hornish did, you can see the transfer from rear to front is just as hard (I know Stewart did well in the IRL, but, let's face it, that featured people like Buzz Calkins as champion). F1 has got like that now, it's so different from any other form of racing that the best way in is the Hamilton route - test like mad. Piquet's GP2 record is not dissimilar to Hamilton's...

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 12:54

It's easy to have wisdom 35 years after the fact. In the 70s USAC had little choice, the fans were booing the rear engines everywhere they ran. All of a sudden some very unlikely names won simply because they ran rear engines, and within a year everybody would have to have them or they were going to be left behind. USAC were facing empty stands, and they were already having trouble because the dirt track drivers didn't like the heavy pavement slant of the USAC schedule. Many of the best drivers already shunned USAC, and they were not going to be lured by rear engines. That was the year the All-Stars were really big, and everybody remembers Jan Opperman won that series, but who remembers the USAC champ that year? I don't.

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#20 ensign14

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 13:12

Surely though it was obvious that it would corral dirt front engines into a cul-de-sac? 1970 was the last year for dirt ovals in the championship series, and the winners were the Unsers, Gurney, Ruby, McElreath, Andretti, Bettenhausen, Leonard and Savage. You've already got there a few guys that did not come up on the dirt. 5 years later, the winners are Foyt, Rutherford, Unser B, Dallenbach, Mosley, Sneva and Johncock. Not a single one made their champcar debut after 1967 barring Sneva who came up the rear-engined route. There were no new championship stars being created at all. Who was the next one to come along? Rick Mears. Whose first single-seater drives were in F5000. Perhaps the fans were happy at watching the Kinsers flogging their guts out for low paydays on the dirt, but it wasn't the way to get to the pinnacle of open wheel racing - and one of the big things behind the creation of the IRL was the lack of American racing drivers at Indy...talk about a short-term solution.

Mind you, the crowds in the 50s at championship events don't seem to have been gigantic. Low five figures.

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 13:35

I'm not sure you know what you're talking about. Dirt front engines in a dead end street (thanks, had to look that one up), but their still racing today. Low paydys on dirt is not true, either, as Kinser, Wolfgang and Swindell were making six digit figures in the early eighties already. Most of the CART drivers didn't make that much, I'm sure. People still flock to see dirt track racing, but who watches Indycars? USAC still exists, but where is CART? So, perhaps their wisdom wasn't that bad.

#22 ensign14

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 13:53

CART vanishing and the moribund IRL is the result of 90s politics and some idiotic decision making. The front engined dirt trackers are still racing, yes, and the formula (for want of a better word) is nowhere near the pinnacle it was in the 1960s. Once it was a direct stepping-stone to Indianapolis, now it's a stepping-stone to the Nationwide series. :well:

The thing is, if they banned rear-engined sprint cars, why not ban rear-engine champ cars? Genie out of the bottle?

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Posted 29 August 2009 - 15:22

I don't know why they didn't ban rear engines at Indy, but I'm glad they didn't because where would the 500 be now? Stock cars, most likely. The question is not why didn't they ban rear engines, the question is why did grass roots racing in the US never developed rear engines. The usual argument is, there are no rear engines on the streets, but that wasn't different in Europe, yet Europe had grass roots racing with rear engines as soon as Cooper and Lotus started winning. Once again, I'm not clear what you mean by the formula being near the pinncale in the 60s, that's not how I remember it if we're talking dirt track racing. You will find that attendance figures at dirt track races have been pretty stable over the last half century, increasing slightly, if anything. It's just that the connection to Indy has dissolved. Indy has developed, sprint car racing not. At least not much.

#24 Lemnpiper

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Posted 31 August 2009 - 17:14


Hi Guys,


I went over to racingreference to see who did win CART races in the 1980's and make some surprising discoveries.(i dont think all the races are listed there yet)

Overall Total wins look like this, (Races from 1980 thru 1989 seasion)

Driver Year of Birth Wins

1 Rick Mears 1951 20
2 Bobby Rahal 1953 19
3 Mario Andretti 1940 18
4 Danny Sullivan 1950 13
5 Emmerson Fittipaldi 1946 11
6 Tom Sneva 1948 10
7 Michael Andretti 1962 9
8 Al unser jr 1962 9
9 Johnny Rutherford 1938 8
10 Bobby Unser 1934 4
11 Gordon Johncock 1936 3
12 Al Unser Sr 1939 3
13 Roberto Guerrero 1956 2
14 mike Mosley 1946 1
15 Pancho Carter 1950 1
16 Hector Rebaque 1956 1
17 John Paul Jr 1960 1
18 Jacques Villenueve 1953 1
19 Kevin Cogan 1956 1


Sneva seems to be the biggest success of guys who came up via the same system as Foyt ,Mario, Rutherford & Johncock had done.

Even more shocking in hindsight is how quickly that change occured with folks like Rahal & Sullivan leading the charge among the "young turks"taking on the old guard .

The old Dirt trackers path to indy car wins which had worked so well for decades produced besides Sneva basically only Al jr as a big winner and Carter as a solo win winner.(Mosley's death in 1984 leaves his status as a question mark sadly cuz i feel he had more potential still)

In a way i see clearly nowwhat Tony george saw happen which made him think about forming a news series ot help the midget & Sprint car drivers a way to get to indy.The eventual flaw of course is that the skills needed to race in Indy car now arent taught much on lower level american racing series.


Paul

#25 Lemnpiper

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Posted 31 August 2009 - 17:18




Oops ,

I forgot to mention in my previous posting that i have not overlooked how Penske dominated the series even then to an even greater degree than he & ganassi do now.Which also played a part in who won races.


Besides Al jr did Penske's road racing back ground tend to cause him to overlook potential upcoming talent from the sprint & midgets back in the 1980s?




Paul

#26 RA Historian

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Posted 31 August 2009 - 20:41

did Penske's road racing back ground tend to cause him to overlook potential upcoming talent from the sprint & midgets back in the 1980s?

I don't think so. The Captain NEVER misses an opportunity to win. He always picks the best available to drive his cars. And like it was said earlier, by the early 80s the day of the sprint and midget driver moving up to Indy cars was over. As far as open wheel racing is concerned, sprints and midgets by then, and to this day, present a dead end for advancement. Road racing is the route to the top in open wheel. Take the present IRL field. Of all the regulars, only one (Ed Carpenter) came up the sprint and midget way. All the rest are road racers.

Arguable statement coming: In the past decade plus, only two drivers have come out of the sprints and midgets who have had the skill to win at Indy cars. One did, the other never tried. Both are now in nascar: Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. (Don't want to start an argument; only my opinion

Tom

#27 stevewf1

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 07:32

I don't think so. The Captain NEVER misses an opportunity to win. He always picks the best available to drive his cars. [...]

Tom


An example is Rick Mears, who came from off-road racing, of all things...



#28 Bob Riebe

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 16:34

AJ Foyt said in one of the racing rags, that the death of his father totally devastated him and ruined his racing.

Al Unser and Rutherford, either in the same rag or on television said the good rides just went away. Not becausse of lack of ability but the owners went to the money. Unser and Rutherford came from an era when talent ruled.

1969 Castle Rock

Fin St Driver Chassis-engine Reason Pts Purse
1 5 Gordon Johncock Eagle-Ford 1:47:52 (84.337 mph) 300 $8362
2 1 Dan Gurney Eagle-GWFord Flagged 240 $4225
3 8 A.J. Foyt Coyote-Ford Spun out 210 $2600


1969 Brainard

Fin St Driver Chassis-engine Reason Pts Purse
1 2 Gordon Johncock Eagle-Ford 0:55:25.00 (108.270 mph) 200 $6388
2 4 Dan Gurney Eagle-GWFord Finished 160 $7388
3 1 Al Unser Lola-Ford Finished 140 $1581

#29 Lemnpiper

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 19:36

I don't think so. The Captain NEVER misses an opportunity to win. He always picks the best available to drive his cars. And like it was said earlier, by the early 80s the day of the sprint and midget driver moving up to Indy cars was over. As far as open wheel racing is concerned, sprints and midgets by then, and to this day, present a dead end for advancement. Road racing is the route to the top in open wheel. Take the present IRL field. Of all the regulars, only one (Ed Carpenter) came up the sprint and midget way. All the rest are road racers.

Arguable statement coming: In the past decade plus, only two drivers have come out of the sprints and midgets who have had the skill to win at Indy cars. One did, the other never tried. Both are now in nascar: Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. (Don't want to start an argument; only my opinion

Tom



Hi Guys,



I would think Ryan Newman may have done well in indy cars ,perhaps Kenny Irwin would have as well.Not so sure about Dave Blaney .



That's the great unknown now is due to the split who shifted focus to stock car instead of open wheel cars. The Bush brothers seem to have been in the right area to have gone open wheel racing if the series had stayed viable longer.


Maybe this is true heresay but i'llask it anyway: What if new rules were drawn up to take effect in say 2015 that the new cars must be front engined with and with no wings whatsoever.This would give car owners 5 years to deplete their stock of current vehichles to prepare for the change over.
Tire would be no more than 8 inches wide tread with and any engine could be selected.

The biggest challenge could end up being convincing fans laps of 220 mph plus arent needed for great open wheel racing at Indy.


This a a radical idea but with finances the way it is now i cant see ANY racing series with vehichles costing 4-7 million minimum each year to run lasting much longer.And now would be the time for a "clean sheet" approach towards the future.And to maintain american interest in an american series we need to return construction of cars for this series backto america like it was "mostly" prior to the rear engined revolution of the 1960's.

This is not to say the rqcing hasnt been great at times since the rear engined revolution occured but more of an observation that those with a passion for the upper levels of open wheel racing seems in decline moreso each passing year.

The ulimate bottom line i guess is this : the more folks you have believing they can compete , the larger the fan base will be.



Paul



#30 ensign14

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 20:11

Once again, I'm not clear what you mean by the formula being near the pinncale in the 60s, that's not how I remember it if we're talking dirt track racing.

When dirt tracks made up the majority of the championship schedule, right to the mid-60s.

In a way i see clearly nowwhat Tony george saw happen which made him think about forming a news series ot help the midget & Sprint car drivers a way to get to indy.The eventual flaw of course is that the skills needed to race in Indy car now arent taught much on lower level american racing series.

Go back further. Look at the winners in the 1970s. Other than Sneva, did a single one emerge from the sprint/midget series after about 1965? Vukovich Jr had a freak win, otherwise I think it's ALL the Unsers, Foyts, Johncocks of this world. People like Pancho Carter and Johnny Parsons never made it. Even Carter's win might have been Bettenhausen Jr's, another scoring snafu.

#31 DOF_power

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 21:06

This a a radical idea but with finances the way it is now i cant see ANY racing series with vehichles costing 4-7 million minimum each year to run lasting much longer. And now would be the time for a "clean sheet" approach towards the future. And to maintain american interest in an american series we need to return construction of cars for this series back to america like it was "mostly" prior to the rear engined revolution of the 1960's.

This is not to say the rqcing hasnt been great at times since the rear engined revolution occured but more of an observation that those with a passion for the upper levels of open wheel racing seems in decline moreso each passing year.

The ulimate bottom line i guess is this : the more folks you have believing they can compete , the larger the fan base will be.



Paul




But the homemade construction cars where unsafe and unreliable. You'll end up with either a super-spec a la F2 or the deathtraps of yesteryear's.
Besides the NASCAR marketing machine will crush anything that threatens it, especially considering how many tracks they own.

#32 DOF_power

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 21:11

Question, why in Europe there wasn't any problem with the mid-engined cars but there was a problem in America ?!
I mean F1s, endurance-LMPs and GTs, Group B rally cars, all popular.

Edited by DOF_power, 01 September 2009 - 21:12.


#33 Bob Riebe

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 18:51

Question, why in Europe there wasn't any problem with the mid-engined cars but there was a problem in America ?!
I mean F1s, endurance-LMPs and GTs, Group B rally cars, all popular.

DOLLARS were one reason.

At Oswego, a major super modified track in the U.S., in the seventies, some drivers especially one named Jim Shampine were building more and more exotic cars, including rear-engined cars.
When Shampine who was always at the peak of innovation, brought out his latest exotic, the rules makers instantly knew that it would obsolete nintey percent of the cars running.
On these short tracks, even the large five eigths or mile ones, track owners need crowds, and a field full of cars, even if most are also rans, is more important in filling the stands than a dozen super high-tech. cars driven by the bucks-up few.

Rear engine super mods, lasted into at least the eighties out west, with some of the last looking more like a F-1 car with nerf bars than a "normal" super-mod, but when Oswego, killed the rear-engined cars along with USAC, that sealed the fate of anything not front engned being run on most short tracks.

The fastest "normal" super mods, were fast enough, that before Tony George and the France boys killed the Copper World Classic a "outlaw" race that was the peak of short track driving, the fastest supers, were quick enogh that they would have been mid-field in the Indy car race at Phoenix.