Dario Franchitti, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda kisses the trophy after winning the IndyCar Series Championship at the IRL IndyCar Series Firestone Indy 300 on October 10, 2009 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)
The Borg-Warner Trophy. One of professional sports' most storied and famous awards. Do you know who wins this? Of course you do. The Indianapolis 500 champion, of course.
Now, here's the $64 question: what's the name of the IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy?
I'll give you a minute.
Time's up. It was a trick question... there isn't one. A name, that is. It's just the "championship trophy."
I think that maybe this should be addressed. You know, while we're thinking about award names already.
It's been the big news of the week, this whole issue of naming separate oval and road-course champions during the IndyCar season and putting some of the series' hallowed heroes' names on the trophies. From all reports, the oval champion's trophy is going to be named after A.J. Foyt (67 victories, 7 titles), and it seems crazy not to name the road-course trophy after Mario Andretti (52 victories, 4 titles).
That's all well and good, but to have those two awards named and let the championship trophy remain nameless... well, it just devalues the series championship immensely, particularly in the context of a top-level racing series.
With all of the history wrapped up in the Borg-Warner Trophy, as well as the names and faces of the Indy 500 winners it celebrates, it is something that racing drivers aspire to win. The IndyCar series championship trophy? For all we know, it is just one of those resin or glass plaques that you can buy online for a couple of hundred bucks. Of course that's hyperbole, but how would we know? Most of us have never seen the damn thing, and I have a hard time believing anyone cares that much outside of those who won it.
That, my friends, needs to change... and fast.
I don't know whether the IndyCar series championship trophy will ever gain the kind of hallowed respect that the Borg-Warner Trophy enjoys, but it certainly needs an image boost - particularly if two subordinate trophies will have names and histories starting this season.
So here's your wake-up call, IndyCar. Your championship trophy needs a name and a makeover. Now, as far as the physical trophy itself - well, get creative. It'd be nice to have something as impressive and imposing as the Borg-Warner or the Stanley Cup, but whatever you do, make it significant. Have the championship winners inscribed on the base - maybe even include the team owner and crew on there as well. Give the drivers and teams a facsimile to keep but keep the trophy itself in rotation from year to year.
As for names, well, there are plenty of options. There is a faction that believes that IndyCar should adopt the Vanderbilt Cup since Champ Car is no longer using it, but beyond the now-pejorative connection with Champ Car, the history of the Vanderbilt Cup does not necessarily reflect or connect with IndyCar's. Here, then, are a couple of suggestions off the top of my head of some good candidate names:
- The Hulman Cup. This is the obvious first choice for anyone who knows anything about IndyCar racing. There probably wouldn't be IndyCar racing if Anton Hulman hadn't rescued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from obscurity after World War II. The Hulman-George family, of course, owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; the Hulman name, furthermore, stands for a strong tradition of philanthropy in Indiana.
- The DePalma Trophy. Named after Ralph DePalma, an Indy 500 winner and winner of the most races sanctioned by AAA. DePalma won over 2000 races in his career and was well-known for his sportsmanship as well as his skill. He competed in the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911 and won the race in 1915.
- The Donohue Memorial Cup. This is my sentimental favorite. Mark Donohue is a legend to any fanatic of American motor racing. Perhaps one of the sports greatest all-time multi-discipline competitors, Donohue was a star in almost every form of top-level racing until he died in 1975 from complications stemming from a racing accident. More than just a star driver, he was also an innovative engineer, often tuning his cars himself to get their maximum performance. Winner of the 1972 Indianapolis 500 (Roger Penske's first victory at Indy as a car owner), Donohue's versatility and outright talent is a standard against which every champion motor racer should measure himself.
See? There are three great options and I wasn't even thinking hard. I'm sure that we can get some more terrific candidates (if you have an idea, post it in the comments).
The point is, it's hard to get drivers excited about winning a championship that is so subordinated to the Indy 500 trophy that even people within the sport itself can't tell you its name. It's an anonymous championship, and anyone who grew up watching Winston (now Sprint) Cup racing knows that it's tough to build interest in a season of auto racing when the title that's on the line is so obscure.
I can't recall the last time I heard an IndyCar driver say that his goal was to win the IndyCar championship. It's almost always about winning the Indy 500. The car counts at Indy versus the rest of the year seem to bear that out. If the IndyCar powers-that-be want to drive up competitor interest, wouldn't the first step be to make the overall season title extraordinarily attractive rather than a footnote?
Sometimes in order to build on history you need to create a bit of it first.