Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Take on Texas

Thrilling, side-by-side action.

An adrenaline rush for three straight hours.

Never leaving the edge of my seat.

Those phrases describe how I felt after watching the absolutely thrilling Rainguard 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday. It was simply spectacular stuff. I loved every second of it.

First off, I want to address "Pack Racing," because it really bugs me when people lump any racing that is close on an oval has instantly being pack racing. While it was tough for cars to seperate at Texas given the new tires and track configuration, drivers did start to form smaller groups on long green flag runs when the tires fell away. This would not be the case in a conventional pack race, like what we saw in the old Chicagoland days or even the tragedy that took place in Las Vegas. Those races were about putting your foot to the floor with no hope of ever getting out of the giant group. That, in my opinion, is not what we say on Saturday. Consistent yellows and the competition cautions prevented us from seeing the field get spread out into three or more smaller groups on long green flag runs. 

The close, wheel-to-wheel, adrenaline pumping racing we saw on Saturday is what brought many fans to love the IRL Series back in its hay-day, even though I would consider those races back in the day to be textbook definitions of pack racing. Still, great races on tracks like Texas, Chicago, Kansas, and Fontana is what brought many fans to the IRL from CART.

Some action at Texas (Photo: Autoweek)

So many fans will staunchly defend what we saw on Saturday because of the entertainment values, and for nostalgia, because that was as close to an IRL race as we will ever get. 

The action on Saturday was crazy. It left for a huge debate between those who loved the racing versus those who considered the racing too dangerous. 

If anything, I would argue stupid driving was the biggest danger to the drivers on Saturday and not the close racing. Blocking, forcing three-wide action in a two-groove track, pushing track limits, etc. all contributed to imminent dangers and hard crashes. 

In the DW12 era, races at Texas and other high speed ovals have been low downforce, tire degradation races. This doesn't make for good television, but the dangers are just as real. Josef Newgarden came perilously close to a fatal accident in a crash with Conor Daly last year at Texas. Mikhail Aleshin flew into the catchfencing after a hard crash at Fontana in 2014 under the same sort of specs we've seen in years past.

In general, racing is dangerous, but the tight racing we saw Saturday night compounds the danger if something does go wrong. And without cockpit protection, large chunks of debris from large crashes become impossible for drivers to dodge with no time to react.

And yet, while I love that racing, I would sleep perfectly fine at night if we never saw that type of racing again.

Many defenders of Saturday's race have taken to labels and ad hominem attacks to those who said they wouldn't like to see that racing in IndyCar (labels like sissy, wussy, and others that shouldn't be repeated). But to me, it's not worth it. While races at Indianapolis, Texas, and Pocono are by far the most dangerous races of the year given the high speeds and the close proximity of the walls, the tight racing we saw at Texas is a recipe for disaster if and when things go wrong. When you have that many cars that close together, it's not a matter of if, just a matter of when.

Taking a step back from the situation, to me it is just not worth the risk. We've lost two drivers in the last six years, and taking measures to ensure that unnecessary dangers aren't around the corner should not be taken lightly. 

To me, the entertainment aspect of things is just not worth the risk of losing a human life. If I snoozed out to a Texas low downforce, tire conservation fest again in the future, I would be bored and would complain, but that is a much better than option for the chance to be entertained while the chances of losing a life goes significantly up.

One of the biggest crashes we've seen in recent memory by the
sheer amount of cars that were collected (Photo: Autoweek)

Have we seen the last of "pack racing." Who knows. This year at Texas wasn't supposed to be a "pack race." The new pavement and quick decision by Firestone to change tires created that. Fontana in 2015 wasn't supposed to be a pack race. While I still to this day say Fontana was the best race I've ever seen, I stand by my statement that the risk doesn't outweigh my need for entertaining. The new aero package and fluctuating atmospheric temperatures led to what I would consider a pack race at Fontana.

But for me to sit here and complain if Texas is just a snoozer next year just doesn't seem right. Who am I to criticize the drivers who are the ones putting their lives on the line for glory, fame, and the pursuit of victory? I am not the one going 220mphs four inches from another guided missile with 20 more around me in the span of a couple football fields. My biggest danger in life is crossing the street. Who am I to criticize? 

I could not criticize IndyCar either for choosing to protect their drivers either. I mean, if we are being honest, the race we saw at Texas generated huge buzz, garnered lots of attention, and got people talking, but it earned a .34 rating on NBCSN. If it was a low downforce, not as entertaining race, what would it earn, a .26? Both ratings aren't exactly spectalar. That would be like choosing a Bic Mac versus a Big Mac with bacon; at the end of the day, they're both still not that good.

And the opinions we should hold highest are the opinions of the drivers. If all 22 drivers came out and said they loved that racing and we should do it more often, then I wouldn't bat an eye. But that was far from the case. James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, and many others have come out criticizing the racing. 

At the end of the day, if we happened to get another race like Texas again, I would be highly entertained and would enjoy every second of it. But to me, it is just not worth it. 


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

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