Almost everyone wants to abandon the pure spec-nature we have today. Indy 2009 showed why that doesn't work. But Brian Lisles takes it a step further:
"Today, we know how to go fast and how to be reliable and a lot of people feel racing should be about efficient use of energy. Quite how you make that into something that's appealing to the public is a difficult question. The perception is that the public will only get interested in an event where there's wheel-to-wheel, man-on-man combat, which if you look back historically is not how motor racing has ever been.
"Certainly Indianapolis used to be filled with some of the world's most boring races but the fans still came. Part of the excitement was not the man-to-man, wheel-to-wheel racing but the fact that somebody was leading in this powerful or different car that might not make it to the end. Some of the excitement was, is it going to hang together and make it to the end? But today I think everybody's got locked into the thought that you have to have wheel-to-wheel racing."
Undoubtedly true. Given that I was more sympathetic to the CART side during the split, I ought to be in full agreement. In a sense, I am. The current cars, IMHO, produce artificially close superspeedway racing and they look... less than ideal. But...
But relying on "history" here is a tricky proposition. His characterization of what Indy was is accurate, but two things stick out for me. One, it was a different time in many ways. Indianapolis had dominated the American racing scene (outside of the Southeast) since, well, the 1910's. Through the early 90's, it was, in some ways, coasting on it's history. It could do that as long as there were big name drivers all over the field. The thinning out of these drivers started in the early 90's (buh-bye Mears, Unser Sr., Mario, AJ, etc), but the big factor was the split. Today, even with Marco, Graham Rahal and Danica, Americans no longer identify with the sport. During the split wilderness, NASCAR filled the void, and the drivers of today are there (at least in terms of cultural resonance).
Which brings me to point two. The rise of NASCAR also shifted perceptions in this country as to what motorsports IS. Lisles is spot on when he notes that racing was once all about the ultimate pursuit of record speeds. That's why, in many ways, Pole Day at Indianapolis was considered by many the 2nd biggest day in motorsports (the 500 being #1).
As NASCAR rose in importance and popularity, speed and technology necessarily had to diminish in importance. Cup cars are NOT slow, but compared to the days of records at Indianapolis, speed will never be the top selling point. In terms of technology, really now, come on. If the COT is the result of all NASCAR has learned, then yes, their use of technology is impressive... for 1969.
This is not to bash NASCAR. By nature, the speeds will be slower than an IndyCar, but they're two different machines with, somewhat, different goals. As for tech, NASCAR has always felt comfortable philosophically with their technology.
No, the point is this: Is mainstream American racing (hell, racing anywhere) really about the ultimate pursuit of speed, technology, AND victory, or has NASCAR reduced or otherwise cut out the 1st two factors? I'm tempted to argue it's the latter, with driver personalities taking on more import along with close racing.
I both want, in many ways, the racing Lisles wants, yet I don't. The current spec low(er)-tech machines must go. They look lousy and, at times race that way too.
Butttt... do we want to return to the era of one car, potentially, dominating, while running speeds? I wonder if our racing culture will tolerate it. Would I tolerate it?
On the other hand, I do NOT want to simply become an OW NASCAR. Speed & technology MUST play a role.
But getting right will be tough. Unfortunately (though maybe not?), the future of the sport rests on them getting it right.