Indy Split: Mario to the Rescue
Friday, July 2, 2021 - 13:15
Indy Split is a fascinating, authoritative and overdue account of the big money battle that nearly destroyed the sport of Indy car racing. The book traces the roots of Indy car racing’s dysfunction, which began in 1945 when Tony Hulman rescued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from potential redevelopment. In this post, read about Mario Andretti's efforts to unify the racing scene. Photo by John Oreovicz.
Although he was a vocal opponent of the IRL in its early years, no individual tried harder to unify America’s divergent pair of open-wheel racing championships than Mario Andretti. But for years, even Mario’s wisdom, clout, and common sense couldn’t convince George and Kalkhoven of the need to come together for the greater good of a sport that continued to struggle for media impact, sponsor dollars, and fan interest.
Like Honda’s Robert Clarke, Andretti believed the two groups were close to an agreement in the summer of 2006 until a key meeting was canceled at the last minute, leaving the gulf between the two sanctioning organizations as wide as ever. “I almost cried,” Andretti admitted. “I had a situation put together where a really comprehensive meeting was set to take place and it got derailed.”
Andretti declined to say why his potential open-wheel summit never took place. But he did reveal his frustration over how he was getting increasingly fed up with both sides’ inability to see the need to move forward into the future as a single entity. “They are all in denial—that’s the problem,” he commented. “They all have these little victories. Champ Car says things like ‘the crowd was up 10 percent at Cleveland,’ but give me a break. I was at Portland and the weekend was like going to a funeral. And it’s the same thing on the other side in the IRL. They keep thinking things are getting better.
“That’s what I fight all the time when I’m reasoning with them,” Mario continued. “I’m like a broken record trying to make the point. Then they say they agree, but when it comes down to trying to negotiate through a little bit of give and take, some of the major issues are pulled off the table. I got them to the altar more than once; I just can’t get them to say ‘I do.’”