As this is being written, there are brand-spanking-shiny new DW12s, replete with the latest in sponsored liveries, being throttled with vigor down in Sebring. Spring training is upon us and the Indycar season (save for a very few and very unfortunate teams and drivers) is now rapidly approaching on the forward horizon.
There is scant time to prepare for the most important turn of the season, but to emphasize that turn's monumental importance, it is important to recapitulate why it is so...
The last race I saw in person prior to this writing was that glorious underdog victory of a finish at Kentucky on October 2nd, 2011. An early morning IndycarNation bus ride from IMS delivered myself, two racing friends, and 60-some other Indycar fans to Kentucky Speedway. As the sun had slowly risen to burn off the frost, we clambered (still somewhat groggy from our previous night's escapades in downtown Indy) off the bus to a gorgeous bluebird autumn sky in Sparta, KY. Little did we know the drama that was to unfold just hours later. The following video is re-work by @indy44 of a classic VersusTV ad with Kentucky race highlights seems to encapsulate that race, and the end of Indycar on Versus TV as we knew it. Go ahead and play it - it's quite enjoyable.
Certainly Ed Carpenter's first victory which put Sarah Fisher Racing in the Winner's Circle for the first time was one of the highlights of the 2011 Indycar season.
As clear as the Kentucky sky was that morning and the sweetness of seeing a race to be added to a hundred years of Indycar lore, what lay just beyond in the coming hours and days was the stuff of the worst Indycar nightmares.
Immediately following one of the most tremendous underdog victories in recent Indycar history, Sarah announced through tears of joy and pain in Victory Lane that her win was bittersweet due to the fact that her primary sponsor would be leaving at the end of the season. The subsequent questions of the sport's profile and head-shaking resound through the paddock of stalwart fans and media.
Then, the worst of news...
Reigning Indy 500 Champion Dan Wheldon dies tragically on Sunday, October 16 in a spectacular crash on Lap 11 (which also tallied numerous severe injuries) during the Las Vegas Indycar World Championship season finale. Weeks of grief and analysis and hand-wringing and brazen 'strafing attacks' by far-flung, uninformed branches of the media followed. Dark times indeed.
With much care and deliberation (and little outward detail), Indycar begins the process of investigating the crash while concurrent, rapid preparations are made for a timely and proper memorial to Dan and his family. In just two weeks, things had gone from an incredible high to the lowest of low for which we all were ill-prepared.
Somewhat quietly in relation to the Wheldon backlash, Lotus Cars and Lotus Racing became ensnarled in a paternity battle over the convoluted ownership rights of all the pieces of the company and most certainly was the primary cause of delay in the already critical schedule for the Indycar motor development we see today.
Despite the beginnings of brighter news when the (newly renamed DW12) chassis are delivered, almost giftlike, to teams near the holidays, motor contracts also become scarce. Manufacturers who've based budgets and work on a particular number of cars for the 2012 season, are surprised to find more entries than expected. This leads to much confusion and concern when a number of (smaller and fan-favored) teams with full-season funding are left out in the cold of January and February awaiting any news of impending motor leases which hadn't yet come.
And, as the 60s radio DJ said, "the hits just keep on coming"...
Early testing of the new chassis and engines reveals some significant deficiencies in the high-speed oval trim to the dismay of alarmists who with great voice insist Indycar and Dallara provide a car that shall not be lesser than the previously unloved and 8 year-old Dallara.
Ovals become scarce on the long-awaited and oft-delayed schedule announcement, again with much vocal opposition by those who seem to prefer watching 33 Watson roadsters amble around to 33 ground-effect machines in a variety of venues.
Danica, now fully divorced from Indycar, becomes the media darling of the NASCAR world. This, combined with a still-fragmented TV coverage package, leaves some Indycar followers unsure of the future visibility of the sport.
Assorted negative and positive news comes out of the Indycar world at varying times culminating with a State of the Sport presentation which generally reminds us that, despite where Indycar has been in recent years, months, and weeks, there are many positives on the threshold of this newest of Indycar seasons.
So it has finally come to this...
The dawn of a new season. New cars. New Engines. New and old drivers and teams. New venues and old venues reborn. The cusp of a fresh new Indycar world. What will it look like? How will it be received? What can we count on?
Not much, I think, but I can tell you this - despite all the crap we stalwarts have been through in the recent weeks, months, and years, despite any positives and spin and ballyhoo regarding a new Indycar world, NOTHING will present the world with our all-new, Phoenix-from-the-ashes sport that is Indycar (what I argue is) the SINGLE-MOST important turn all season...
Turn One at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
"There are no second chances"...
The key for Indycar's 2012 season will be held in the hands of those found in just two distinct locations - the starter's perch and the driver cockpits at St Pete. Drivers, if you care about nothing else all year, know that you very well may be judged by many on one thing this year; getting through turn 1 and completing the first lap without wrecking.
There is an opportunity to catch potential fans who will be tuning-in only since October to see what has become of that curiosity known as Indycar. I emplore you to not succumb to temptation and make a mockery of what potential good there is from "the best, fastest, most versatile drivers in the world" by smashing it up at the end of the runway in St. Pete.
I cannot strongly enough remind the league, teams, and drivers, that the fans are still here, ready and waiting for you. To use the words of that speech from the Versus ad at the top of this post:
"the only thing, THE ONLY THING we can count on at any given moment is YOU."
(said the fans to the league, teams, and drivers)
"It's you versus them."
(the naysayers and doomers of this sport)
"It's you versus 'NO'!"
(those who wait to expose your failures)
"You versus 'CAN'T'!"
(prove to everyone you're the best drivers in the world).
"You versus next year, last year, statistics, excuses..."
(forget the ghosts of the past, your time is NOW.)
"It's you versus history"
(it's time to make your own)
"It's you versus the odds"
(show them how great this sport can be)
"It's you versus second place"
(tired of being second-rate to NASCAR? I am!)
"The clock is ticking... let's see what you've got."