DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER!
IndyCar fans on Twitter were channeling the Michelin-Man-armed claw-handed Frisbee-headed robot from Lost in Space after it was confirmed today that the IZOD IndyCar Series would officially adopt double-file restarts in all races at all venues.
A second change, a NASCAR-style "Lucky Dog" free pass, is still in the trial balloon stage but, if social media is any indicator, the awesome backlash of purist IndyCar fans may nick that idea in embryo.
Still, it seems like there is a maelstrom of turmoil today among fans who believe that adopting NASCAR-style rules to "intensify drama" - to paraphrase INDYCAR's wording - is diluting, polluting, and transmuting a series that they believe should remain gimmick-free.
Adopting anything NASCAR-originated is fundamentally and automatically a mistake, at least to the hardest-line purists. NASCAR, many believe, already has far too large a piece of the pie for being the kind of retro, low-tech, artificially-dramatic entertainment that it is; if INDYCAR adopts something that NASCAR came up with, it cedes a critical piece of the moral high ground to the folks in Florida. And with ratings in the toilet and a nearly-two-decade-long history of managerial ego, greed, and stupidity, that purist's high ground is all that some fans have left.
Fans were already worked up by INDYCAR's corporate name change - aping NASCAR's all-caps deal, but without the proper context for it to make any sort of rational sense (NASCAR, as you should already know, is an acronym for the sanction's unwieldy, yet official, name). Double-file restarts, though, make the name change seem... well, like the minor issue it actually is.
Even some drivers don't like it. For some reason, these folks who are allegedly some of the best in the world are predicting a freak show of demolished carbon fiber and a sky full of yellow flags once this goes into practice. Whether it is from years of Brian Barnhart's stubborn insistence that even the vaunted three-wide start at the Indy 500 is reckless and unsafe, or because the drivers still have in their racial subconscious the embarrassing debacle of the start of the inaugural US 500 at Michigan, or some other bugaboo hiding in their mental closets... whatever it is, some of the drivers seem at best pessimistic about the idea.
Many fans certainly don't like it. The most oft-repeated argument is a somewhat quaint, definitely old-school theory that the track position gained or lost under green must not be tampered with in any form while the field is under a caution. Lapped cars mixed in with the leaders? Work around them. It's not race control's place to reposition the chess pieces to make the game more palatable to spectators.
This last is a bit ironic considering the opposition to the idea of the free pass that has been floated but not yet confirmed. The opposition to this - apart from its decided gimmickry - is that lapped cars, once lapped, should not have the opportunity to interfere with the lead lap cars again. However it happened, once that lap is lost, it should not be recoverable unless the driver hits the turbos or something and races past the leaders under green. A free pass is, some argue, racing welfare at its ugliest.
The free pass certainly has far less to recommend it than double-file restarts. Established in NASCAR to make up for the fact that racing back to a caution flag was no longer allowed due to safety concerns, the "Lucky Dog" has no similar context in IndyCar racing. IndyCar, in fact, has not allowed racing back to a caution flag for decades. What in NASCAR is an accommodation to a lost perk - the idea of getting a lap back by beating the leader to a caution - is a perk based on... well, no precedent at all.
No amount of theorizing about bad luck or second chances will shake those who despise the idea. Summed up, their contention is that in racing shit happens, and if you can't deal with that then... tough.
At the end of the day, the fundamental philosophical difference between those advancing the idea of double-file restarts and the free pass and those who resist is simple. The former believe that drama can be added to the formula without prejudicing it, while the latter claim that drama cannot - should not - be manufactured, only generated as a natural extension of "pure" competition.
To be sure, the idea of "pure" competition is an anachronism in this day and age, but it is a dearly-held myth for IndyCar fans that have spent decades grasping at whatever lifebuoy they can find to keep from sinking. Giving up the myth even in small increments is another slide down the slippery slope.
Change is coming, though; the only options, therefore, are to either hope that the "NASCARization" of IndyCar pays off, or stop watching altogether. What will you do?