SPARTA, KY - OCTOBER 02: Ed Carpenter in his #67 Dollar General Sarah Fisher Racing Dallara Honda beats Dario Franchitti, driver of the #10 Downey Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Hinda to the finish line to win the IZOD IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300 on October 2, 2011 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Ed Carpenter, one of the very nicest guys in IndyCar racing, is a race winner.
So is Sarah Fisher, once the league's Most Popular Driver and holder of several "firsts" for women drivers in IndyCars, and now a budding mogul hoping to build an empire as a team owner. The first winning female team owner in open-wheel racing, in fact.
This tremendous feat, thought to be nearly impossible in the waning phases of the IndyCar spec era dominated by Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, was pulled off in the most thrilling fashion - the third-closest finish in history, actually.
It is all the more crushing, therefore, to know that almost nobody - in television ratings terms, that is - saw it happen. And, worse, that the grandstands in remote Sparta, Kentucky, were not packed to the last inch as they should have been for such a spectacle.
For the hardcore fans - the ones forever holding out hope that the series is on the cusp of a major renaissance - it is galling. Once again, they have to fall back on the old standbys... "Wait for the new car," "Wait for the Comcast/Versus deal to bear fruit," "Wait for Driver X to start winning and become a breakout star," and so forth.
I myself - an admitted hardcore fan - did not see the race. I was on a cruise ship sailing to Sydney, Nova Scotia at the time. The ship's satellite dish apparently only believed in one sports channel - ESPN - and there was no way in hell that I was going to find Versus anywhere else in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
So I set to watching the ESPN crawl, hoping against hope that I would find out who won at Kentucky. This was not an easy task - the ship was on the fringes of Hurricane Ophelia and braving heavy seas and screeching winds. But it meant enough to me that I forged through the nausea and focused on the TV screen. However, I waited in vain.
It was not until I successfully logged into my e-mail at snail-like speeds via the ship's satellite Internet that I discovered the outcome of the Kentucky race. And it wasn't until later in the week, when our ship pulled into Portland, Maine, that I had enough bandwidth to watch the final laps on YouTube.
In the intervening time, I got to see rugby, cricket, playoff baseball, NFL football, and even Texas Hold'Em poker on the international ESPN feed. But no IndyCar. Not even a whiff.
I was annoyed. Frustrated. And, at one point, enraged. "It figures," I thought to myself, "that I would take my first vacation in nearly two years on the one week that Ed and Sarah broke through." I was actually mad at myself for a while for having missed the great event.
See, that's the trap that the hardcore fall into - they assume blame for things they really shouldn't. It was not, after all, my fault that finding an IndyCar race on TV is so hard to do. Neither is it my fault that the only way to get the kind of sports bar atmosphere for IndyCar - the kind of atmosphere that you can find on nearly every corner pub in every town in the nation when the NFL is on - is by logging into Twitter.
My frustration was misplaced. I should not have begrudged myself for having bought a ticket on a cruise ship on a race weekend. I should have been enraged at the Split (again) and the subsequent shenanigans that have turned IndyCar racing into a niche sport (actually, a niche of a niche sport) that, outside of the span of a couple of weeks in May, is not even a minor blip on the mainstream radar.
Among folks in the sport there is a cry for more positive stories, about momentum being generated and capitalized upon, about the assets the series has that bodes well for the future. I have tried my best to do my part in this matter.
But on a cruise ship braving 15-foot waves and gale force winds, I realized that I was riding out more than one storm. The physical one was troubling, but at least we were making headway with the promise of a sheltered port only hours ahead. The other one offered no such assurances.
So, belatedly, I offer my congratulations to Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher and everyone at Sarah Fisher Racing. You certainly deserve the victory. Sadly, you also deserve far better.