Then And Now: “Spec” Cars At Indy

SPEEDWAY, IN: As I’m sure we’ve all heard by now, there will be totally new cars at the 2012 Indy 500. But, if the car owners have their way, they will all look the same just like now. Question: is this a bad thing?

The original plan called for several different sets of bodywork to be made available for the identical Dallara chassis’s, making the cars appear visually different. Several surveys taken of fans, sponsors and race teams indicated that years of racing identical “spec” Indy Cars had been a prime factor in causing a lack of interest in the sport. By fielding cars that differed in appearance, it was(is)hoped that interest would be revived. After all wasn’t that what the “good old days” were all about?

Well, maybe. But maybe not

The original intent for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was for it to be a proving ground for different race cars from around the world. And, from 1911 through the decade of the ’40’s, the track served that function very well. But, for many of us older folk, the Golden Age of Indy Car racing was centered in the Fabulous ’50’s, in an era when the roadsters ruled the Speedway and the hated, rear-engined “funny cars” had yet to arrive to spoil our fun. Old timers (like me) smile when we think back to the days of the close, dangerous competition the roadsters provided conveniently forgetting that the much-loved Offy Roadsters were basically “spec” cars, not unlike today’s Dallaras!

A look back at the decade of the ’50’s reveals some interesting facts; for example, in 1950, 54, 55, 56 and 1960 EVERY car in the starting field was powered by the amazing, 4 cylinder Offy! The only other engine that managed to qualify for the “500” during the ’50’s was the the screaming, supercharged NOVI V-8 that made the field in 1951, 52, 53, 56, 57 and 1958. And, after 1956, every car, regardless of engine, was an identical appearing offset roadster. Only after Jack Brabham showed up with a modified Cooper-Climax rear-engined Grand Prix car in 1961 did the appearance of Indy Cars begin to diversify.

During the decade of the ’50’s, the NOVI’s were clearly the crowd favorites mainly for two reasons: they were CRAZY loud, plus more importantly they were DIFFERENT! This, to me, is the lesson that needs to be remembered, learned and applied in 2012. Without the diversity that different cars and engines can provide, we are really not that much different than NASCAR which, in case you haven’t noticed, has basically become a “spec” series itself

What we really need is a NOVI, but I guess that won’t happen anytime soon. The next best thing would be for the IndyCar series to stick to their guns and carry on with the plan to use different body kits in 2012 as originally announced. If the owners get their way and stop the different bodywork in 2011, well I hate to say it but CART wins, and the car owners will once again be running the show!

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