Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mergers, bankruptcy, unemployment, and motor racing

I have waited to pass judgment on the latest open-wheel merger rumors, not wanting to waste time conjecturing; speculating or even acknowledging the possibility of a reunion taking place (this is largely because Kevin Kalkhoven cites the people who speak about merger, as being the sole reason for a merger not happening. The first rule of possible merger is, there is no possible merger). The supposed near misses and close calls have been too frequent and ultimately too futile for the events of the week to seem buoyant. We’ve heard all this before; buzzwords like assets, liquidity and union tossed about like a wooden-legged figure skater in a canoe. This would surely under develop and fizzle out like every other attempt at fusion.

Any plan to fix a dozen-year bloody schism could not be solved two months before the respective seasons are to start… Right?

Exactly when this story shifted from pipedream to plausible is hard to pinpoint. Obviously the now infamous Robin Miller articles played a role. The news that the IndyCar Series brass (along with Honda lovechild Robert Clark) hit Japan to iron out a scheduling trip-up added fuel to the fire. Christ, who knows when this turned into the only hope for open-wheel racing in America to gain any degree of relevancy? But it did.

Some killjoys (mainly a small, yet vocal group of Champ Car zealots whose knowledge of the sport is only rivaled by their ignorance to the fact that this is not the Champ Car of 1999) believe that Kalkhoven, et al. would be getting a hose-job should the published merge terms be in the ballpark of what is actually being discussed. They would be right, but Champ Car is in no place to barter.

The ball has been forcibly removed from Champ Car’s court. Through mismanagement, scheduling disasters, dismal media coverage and a litany of other blunders Champ Car imploded. These cock-ups have been outlined to the point of cliché, and are regarded as common knowledge by those outside the inner sanctum of Champ Car.

Regardless of how they obtained it, the IndyCar Series has the upper hand (though through default more so than any tangible advance they have made to either the sport of motor racing or its marketing).

David Phillips wrote an excellent op-ed outlining the damage that a hasty union will cause. And if this merger happens, hasty it will be. This potential deal has all the makings of a four-day Vegas binge that culminates with the exchange of vows between a down of his luck slob and a syphilis-riddled hooker. Heads will roll, companies will close and people will lose jobs. There is no two ways about that.

To Phillips I respond: wars have collateral damage and this is no different.
Aside from the massive amounts of technical resources that will be immediately obsolete (Champ Car’s new Panoz chassis most notability), the pending litigation that faces a voided Champ Car season will be staggering. This will just be the start of the fallout.

And I don’t really care. Neither should you.

A merger transcends the individual company, race team or employee. At stake is the future of open wheel racing in America. An entire sport trumps the needs of companies that exist merely to support that sport. If a union of the forces doesn’t take place, those very companies will be in dire straights soon enough. A delay only postpones the inevitable.

A firehouse liquidation at Champ Car and shotgun wedding with the IndyCar Series is the only bet to salvage this sport and make it viable and relevant by sometime in the next decade.

Returning to the Vegas hooker analogy: Champ Car is coming off of his bender just as he prepares to kiss the hooker and affirm their vows. Champ Car pauses and recoils in disgust as the booze travels off. “Has it really come to this?” he thinks aloud. Champ Car’s mind races as he recalls the last decade of his existence. A hopeless drunk, no friends, drug issues, and no sex since the turn of the millennium. He quickly lays the mother of all kisses on the whore known as the IndyCar Series. A match made in hell, yet necessity.

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