Someone told me today that, hey, there's no Santa Claus either. They missed the point.
My crushing disappointment about the reality of Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt ripping the heart out of what was one of the most thrilling Bump Days in decades at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has nothing to do with some naive belief that rides don't get bought, or that such things hadn't happened before.
It has everything to do with the naive wish that I harbored that somehow, some way, it wouldn't happen again. That the Indy 500 would still retain that aura of transcending the trends that have crippled auto racing's credibility over the past few years. That there are no mulligans on this grandest stage of American motorsports.
I spent hours on Sunday discussing Bump Day with my children, explaining to them that Bump Day was a metaphor for life after a fashion. That you try your hardest, and sometimes if you do your utmost you can earn what you seek, but that sometimes you may not. And that, if you are defeated, you must find a way to deal with that loss, that pain, that disappointment - live with it, and move on.
I had a fantastic example to share with them from 1995, when Roger Penske accepted the fact that he had not had enough preparation, enough speed, enough je ne sais quois to make it into the field only a year after he totally dominated it. In that case, Penske and his drivers quietly packed up and left the hallowed Speedway with their dignity intact.
I have a somewhat different object lesson to share with them now, thanks to Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt - that lesson being that if you have enough money and influence, you can steal something from someone who is not as fortunate as you are. That the word "no" only applies to people who don't have the resources to change it to a "yes."
Spare me the cynicism that things like this happen all the time in racing and in business. If I wanted to treat the Indianapolis 500 with cynicism, I wouldn't be following IndyCar racing at all. The Indy 500 is the one race that, over the span of a 15-year career covering motorsports, I wanted to keep relatively unsullied from the merciless greed, avarice, backroom dealing, and world-weariness that has afflicted every other race I've ever covered.
I am not an Indy fatalist. I am an Indy dreamer. It is the race I grew up with, the race that I have stuck with through thick and thin. I have ignored many, many things that could have shaken my belief in the race and its traditions, all because I hoped that there was a certain fundamental set of assumptions that would not be challenged. One of those was that a driver or team that could not qualify for the race on his own merits would be forced to live with that decision.
Yes, that assumption has been violated in the past, and each time I have been frustrated and furious. And why shouldn't I be? Should I be criticized for wishing that the one American race left that purported to turn away even the biggest teams and personalities if they could not make the cut would actually live up to that claim in reality?
My greatest frustration and vitriol is reserved for Michael Andretti. I have always tried to stay away from the incessant Andretti-bashing that has characterized longtime fans of the Speedway and IndyCar racing. But how can I see anything other than entitlement and self-aggrandizement from a guy whose teams screwed the pooch so blatantly, and yet he believes his drivers and sponsors ought to have a get-out-of-jail-free card? I AM MICHAEL ANDRETTI - MY CORPORATE NEEDS SUPERSEDE ALL OTHERS... that's what this screams at me.
Sure, my position is logically flawed and ignores economic realities. It's because I'm thinking with my heart and my gut. I am speaking from my passion for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. And last I checked, that's what IndyCar has been trying to rebuild in this race in the years since it was dealt a crippling blow by the Split.
I have been contacted by friends I convinced to watch Pole Day and Bump Day. Their enthusiasm for what happened Saturday and Sunday was pronounced; so, unfortunately, was their incredulity over today's news.
One said, "So I spent those hours yesterday for nothing?"
"I thought you said that once someone was eliminated, they couldn't get back in," another pressed me. "Do they give out participation trophies too?"
Those are the optics I worry about - that Indianapolis will be seen as just another white elephant of modern sports because of money.
How do days like today contradict that idea? All it says is that nothing seems to be safe anymore from the encroachment of Ride Buying that has strangled the life and personality from racing... and that not even Indy, the grandest dame of all, is immune.