LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 12: The new IndyCar Series championship trophy on display at the House of Blues Foundation Room inside the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on October 12, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
At the start of the 2010 IndyCar season the newly christened CEO of what was called the Indy Racing League (now simply known as INDYCAR) Randy Bernard decided that with a new series title sponsor in IZOD should come a new championship trophy. Also with a new leader of the series with no ties to the split of CART/IRL in 1996 it was time for a trophy that didn't have any ties with it either. The end result was a trophy that became a punch-line rather than a symbol of excellence.
It was a perfect symbol of what American open wheel racing had become to many: a third-rate series that was considered a joke.
At the near-conclusion of the 2011 season Mr. Bernard mentioned on his twitter feed of the possibility of changing the championship trophy once again. With the controversial "Indy Racing League" moniker now dropped it was time to makeup for another mistake (this time by Bernard himself) and to also usher in the new era with a new championship trophy under the new sanctioning body of INDYCAR. Yes, anything would've been an improvement over the 2010 trophy but what was chosen and shown this week was the complete opposite of the outgoing odd piece of art:
What was chosen was a trophy that was originally awarded to the winner of the Astor Cup Challenge, a 350-mile race on a 2-mile board track at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y. The race lasted just two years (1915-1916, with the 1916 race lasting only 250 miles). The winner of the final race was Johnny Aitken, who has more starts (41) and wins (15) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than any other driver in history.
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Not only is it a gorgeous looking trophy, but it has a direct tie to American open wheel racing and is one of the oldest sports trophies in North America. Some would argue why didn't Bernard choose the Vanderbilt Cup instead? It has more history behind it and has an even more direct tie to American open wheel racing since it was last awarded to CART drivers who were winners of the U.S. 500 and then later awarded to the CART/ChampCar series champion.
That last sentence is exactly why not only why it wasn't chosen, but why Bernard didn't even go back to the old IRL trophy. It has ties to the CART/IRL split era. The Astor Cup doesn't, yet is almost as historic. Neither CART nor the IRL ever awarded it to anyone during that period.
But Bernard didn't want to ignore what was accomplished in those years of 1996-2007. Many great drivers such as Alex Zanardi and Tony Stewart won racing titles in those years of the split. So to recognize such legends on the base of the Astor Cup is now etched with the names of all champions of top-level American open wheel racing from all sanctioning bodies dating all the way back to 1909. That also includes the CART/IRL split era of 1996-2007.
As you can see, it is as close to a perfect choice for IndyCar and worthy of champions. It has the looks, the history, and none of the baggage of previous trophies. It also has one major positive thing going for it that the outgoing trophy doesn't have:
(With that, I give you what should be the final dick joke ever to be said about an IndyCar trophy. I hope.)