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Don't Stop ... Bah-liev-ing!

SPARTA KY - SEPTEMBER 04:  Cars race along the front stretch during the IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300 on September 4 2010 in Sparta Kentucky.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
SPARTA KY - SEPTEMBER 04: Cars race along the front stretch during the IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300 on September 4 2010 in Sparta Kentucky. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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"The principle part of faith is patience" - George MacDonald

Don't worry, Gentle Reader: I will get to talking about IndyCar. Allow me to set the scene.

This past weekend I had the misfortune of needing to go to the store for an ordinary item, a printer cartridge. I say "misfortune" because it is the holiday shopping season, which meant I was surrounded at every turn by people who normally wouldn't be in stores on a Saturday afternoon.

At every turn - driving there, trying to find a parking spot, walking the store aisle, standing in line at the checkout and driving home - I felt like an extra in an episode of "The Walking Dead," surrounded by slow-moving, unthinking creatures, barely animated by the need to eat human flesh, um, sorry, find the perfect gift.

I saw and heard some amazing things on this what-should-have-been-quick trip. Screaming kids, husbands reduced to tears trying to figure out their wife's size or favorite color, parents threatening Christmas Excommunication if the self-same screaming kids don't quiet down, grandparents stoking the coals of discontent by laughing a I-Remember-Those-Days laugh while watching those screaming kids, wives darkly hinting that their husband best get it right this year and store cashiers and clerks with cheeks twitching and spasming from Unfortunately-I-Really-Need-This-Job smiles.

All that time in traffic and standing in line gave me some time to ponder the upcoming IndyCar season - you know, 2011 or what we may in the future call The Year Before Everything Got Good Again. Riding a wave of euphoria created during this offseason by announcements that Chevrolet and Lotus would throw their hats into the engine and aero-kit ring for 2012, the existing only-Honda/only-Dallara race cars will spool up again in just three and a half months.  


I am intensely interested in seeing how IndyCar's 2011 season plays out, but not really for what happens on the track. Let's face it, a complete Ganassi-Penske shutout of victories and podiums isn't out of the question as "everyone else" looks ahead to 2012. Besides the racing, the things I'm curious about include:

  • Will field sizes decrease as small-team money goes toward 2012 or increase as teams use up soon-to-be-obsolete chassis and engines? Will "driver churn" increase as teams seek to find the right shoe for 2012?
  • How do Randy Bernard and an IndyCar team that has made very few miss-steps to this point plan on growing the series in 2011 by attracting new fans? We live in a time where people expect immediate satisfaction ("Serenity Now!"), so how many will jump on board if the focus of the marketing plan is: "Next year will be awesome!"
  • What's the over/under on number of times in press releases, race broadcasts and interviews we hear mention of "next season/year," "2012" or "the future"? Is that number in the hundreds or the thousands? More to the point, is it responsible or wise to make any of those phrases part of the drinking game during Pop Off Valve's Emoticonic race chats? (Ed: Um, no, most emphatically, no!)

*  *  *

I learned many, many things in my 20+ years in the U.S. Navy, but perhaps the most useful bit of knowledge gained was also the first. Starting from the minute we tumbled out of the bus at boot camp in Orlando, Fla., I learned to wait my turn.

We stood in line to get our heads shaved (Ed: with maniacal barbers offering two styles to unwitting recruits, the Mr. Potato Head and the Mr. Onion Head, which in the final analysis looked exactly the same), we stood in line to get inoculations, we stood in line to get ill-fitting and scratchy uniforms, we stood in line to eat and we stood in line to use the bathroom.

We didn't complain partly because there was no point, but mostly because there was no need. Everyone was treated the same. Everyone stood in the same lines, had the same haircut, wore the same clothes, got the same shots and was given the same amount of time to eat the same food. We knew it was all equal, regardless of where you came from, how old you were or what you looked like.

In other words, we had faith in the system.

Longtime fans of IndyCar are excited for 2012, and they should be. That excitement and their love of open-wheel racing - their faith, if you will, in that style of motorsports - should see them through whatever the 2011 season turns out to be, good, bad or indifferent.

But getting new fans into the IndyCar paddock during the next year, getting them to wait through The Year Before Everything Got Good Again, getting them to enjoy potentially very lopsided wins by the two dominant teams, that may just be impossible for even Randy Bernard and his crew of miracle workers. Or maybe not. It all depends on how much faith you have, right?

Either way, I believe I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.