Review by Budd Bailey
In hindsight, it all seems so silly.
Auto racing in this country used to be rather simple. On one side was the events that used one type of cars, mostly notably on Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis. Let’s call them Indy Cars for the moment. On the other side, NASCAR used vehicles that looked more like something you’d have in the garage – thus the name “stock cars.” Each had its own niche in the world of auto racing, and everything was peaceful.
Then came the arguments and the battles. The Indianapolis side of the sport blew up, over and over again over the course of a couple of decades. It caused hard feelings and financial losses.
If you weren’t paying close attention to what was going on, it was difficult to follow. After all, it’s tough to sort out CART and Champ Cars and IRL and USAC without a program – not to mention the types of cars and their parts involved.
So it’s John Oreovicz to the rescue here. The veteran motor sports reporter has come up with what should stand as the complete version of the Car Wars (come to think of it, that might have been a better title) in his book, “Indy Split.”
Here’s an attempt to simplify the story. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway put on a race every year that was known throughout the world. You win the Indy 500, you are a celebrity – at least back in the 1960s. The problem was that it couldn’t leverage that popularity easily into a series of races that could hold fans’ interest over the course of several months. The Speedway and United States Auto Club split on such matters, but an answer wasn’t in sight.
Thus CART – Championship Auto Racing Teams – was born in 1979. That series staged races all over the world, essentially piggybacking on the Speedway’s success. They co-existed for several years, but everyone had to figure that fights over money and power would come up at some point. And they did, with the Speedway setting up its own series (IRL). One side had the famous track, and the other had the famous drivers. It got to the point where CART staged its own race on Memorial Day weekend in 1996. That really didn’t please anyone.
CART and its successor, Champ Car, limped along for another dozen years, dragging down auto racing in the process. Finally in 2008, the two sides came together under one banner. Even so, it’s been difficult to find the right formula for success since then.
With that out of the way, we have a basis to discuss Oreovicz’s book. It’s really a step-by-step review of what took place during the almost 30-year span when there was no peace or harmony in the Indy Car world. He has a ton of information about the battles, and adds plenty of quotes from the participants that were published at the time. Oreovicz also doesn’t ignore the racing aspect of the story, and it gets a hand-in-hand treatment with the business side.
But does it work? It’s a fair question. The answer probably is “it depends.”
Racing fans who can recite the last 18 Indy winners should find this quite interesting. As for the more casual fans out there (guilty), the book may not work as well. Part of that is the technical side of describing racing cars. I’ve certainly heard about inches of boost in race cars, although I am not prepared to explain what it means. And the various acronyms of the sport can be a little confusing.
In addition, it would have been nice for the author to provide a little perspective on what happened along the way. A few quotes from participants along the lines of “Looking back, if we had done this …” might have been very helpful to improve the story flow. In essence, there are 400 pages of play-by-play here, and it does drag a little. One footnote to that: Oreovicz gives seven people involved in the story a few pages each at the end to tell about his experiences along the way. All of them, by the way, that the recent purchase of the Indy Speedway by Roger Penske should get the sport back on the right track – once this pesky Covid-19 stuff disappears.
It’s tough to know if a book like this should be completely written for the zealots, or if it can draw in the casual observers. “Indy Split” probably leans toward the former a bit too much. But for those who will swallow up all of the details, they’ll enjoy this review.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)