The clouds during qualifying at Edmonton in July were no match for the dark clouds of uncertainty currently surrounding the race's future (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The City of Edmonton is making Helio Castroneves' illegal move at last summer's race in their fair city look like a minor irritant.
Like many city governments, their decision-making is based first on their own self-interest, then the interests of paying lobbies, and then finally - if there's enough room and patience - their constituents' desires.
That's why it is unsurprising, albeit amusing, that Edmonton's city fathers sprang their little "move it or lose it" deal on the Indy Edmonton's promoters two weeks after an election. They knew that they wanted to make an unpopular move that would infuriate the local gentry, so they timed it so that those affected would have little recourse besides outrage.
Octane Racing, the promoters, never knew what hit them. Nor did the IZOD IndyCar Series. The fans? Well, it was a hell of a way to wake up from an off-season hibernation.
Of course, once the news broke, the Big Scramble began. The promoters, having been rebuffed in a series of closed-door meetings with the city, began desperately looking for an alternate venue - perhaps in Calgary, which would extend the already-fierce intra-Albertan rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary that stems from the proximity of their NHL teams.
The IndyCar folks, meanwhile, began scrambling to spin this as positively as possible. They wanted to make sure that fans believed that they had options in other areas, but if there ended up not being any that they were "comfortable" with the schedule sans Edmonton.
The fans scrambled to make sure that the city knew how royally pissed off they were at the whole thing. A "Save the Edmonton Indy" page popped up on Facebook - to date, it has a whopping 69 people subscribed. Other avenues of social media experienced at once a volcanic eruption against the city from the locals and speculation about replacement cities from a different group of fans.
Let's not forget the city. In a classic "Oh shit!" moment - not in the least a rarity from local governments when they realize the ill-considered consequences of their actions - they rushed to spin the news so that it made the city look like the wronged party. Octane Racing was being unreasonable, they intimated. They wouldn't pay the money shortfall that they needed to pay in order to reconfigure the track to the city's liking. They made sure that everyone knew how much they loved the Indy Edmonton and what a great event it was for the region, yada yada yada.
So now where are we? In limbo. The race isn't quite dead yet, as local businessmen - given the shaft by the city with no warning - are scrambling to raise the necessary $2.7 million that would bring the race back from the brink. Breathless pronunciations of the event's demise, issued by a media corps that has a tendency to pile onto things like this in the rush to get the news out, have proven to be a bit premature.
One thing is for sure, however - it's just another day in the business dealings between major sports and local governments. Those who believe the sky is falling ought to remember that such dealings are, by their very nature, goat rodeos. If a negotiation between a city and a sporting enterprise doesn't resemble a monkey humping an inflatable boat, there's usually something terribly amiss.
Canadians shouldn't worry about losing a race on the 2011 IndyCar schedule. I wish I could be as comforting to that specific group of Canadians in Edmonton, who probably (and ironically, given that they live in a city with a pro hockey team called the Oilers) feel like they've been penetrated without lube by a bunch of greedy politicians.